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The Clash See America Second

N’I like to be in Africa
A beatin on the final drum
N’I like to be in USSR
Making sure these things will come
N’I like to be in USA
Pretending that the wars are done
N’I like to be in Europa
Saying goodbye to everyone

— “Guns on the Roof”

‘Course we got a manager
And though he ain’t the Mafia
A contract is a contract
When they got em out on yer

— “All the Young Punks”

At 5 p.m. February 16, as I knocked on Caroline Coon’s door at the Howard Johnson Motor Lodge in Cambridge, the first Chinese troops were advancing across the Vietnamese border, but of course we didn’t know it yet. What we did know — me because I’d reached her by phone earlier — was that snow and cold had delayed the Clash’s equipment truck on its overnight Washington-Boston run. Coon quickly informed me that at showtime minus two hours it still hadn’t arrived. She was ob­viously overextended, and obviously worried that I expected her to entertain me in some way, but I just wanted to make contact with the band and split, which is what I did.

By around 7:30 I was inside the Harvard Square Theatre, an 1800-seat venue that astonished promoter Don Law by selling out in an hour for an English band that was on only one commercial Boston radio station. I’m told every new wave band in the city was on hand, which is over a hundred tickets right there, but even more numerous than punk types were short-haired, unstoned­-looking (I said looking) versions of the kind of high-IQ fan Bonnie Raitt gets. This was a crowd that liked to read music — I had my own moment of astonishment when someone asked for my autograph. But it was also a crowd that liked to listen — kids who hadn’t been born when Bo Diddley first recorded clearly knew his beat as well as his name. In the row behind me sat Boston’s pioneering new wave disc jockey, a mild young man with pink hair named Oedipus. A few hours before, he and several others had been fired from the only commercial Boston station­ — one of three major FM outlets in the U.S.A. — that was playing the Clash, but few in the audience knew it yet. There was that feeling in the air that we used to call good vibes, only the anticipation was sharper, the kilowatt potential more focused.

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Coon had made clear that the concert was doomed to start late — the P.A. finally got in at 6:30 — and the sound check was just end­ing as I arrived. Recorded music, all titles an­nounced, began with the Sex Pistols’ “Anarchy in the U.K.,” the Monkees’ “Steppin’ Stone,” and reggae by Dillinger. At around 8 the local opener, two girls and two boys called the Rentals, kicked off hard, dragged into some arty slow stuff, and came back up to a climax entitled “Gertrude Stein”: “Coca-Cola Coca-Cola/Pepsi-Cola Pepsi-Cola/Orange soda orange soda.” Their set was not enhanced when eight Cambridge cops and a platoon of Don Law’s beefy red­shirts ejected two punky nuisances — who’d been hitting on people as if they’d read how in an old N.M.E. — with the kind of en­thusiasm we used to call brutality. After what was literally a brief intermission, Bo Diddley and an all-black trio surprised me pleasantly by rolling the audience down some funky grooves, easy blues lopes as well as variations on Bo’s signature shuffle.

Less than half an hour later, the Coasters’ “Riot in Cell Block Number Nine” blared out of the P.A. as the crew lowered a back­drop of stitched-together flags and the band advanced from the wings. Joe Strummer came on denimy, still bezippered and fati­gued, but Paul Simonon’s slash-necked red uniform was even more glamour-boy than the fishnet item I’d seen him wear in Leeds 16 months before, while Mick Jones, whose turquoise shirt was not only unbuttoned most of the way down but also turned up at the collar, seemed to have achieved most of the evolution from ’70s to ’50s punk — all of the Clash had slicked-back hair, but Mick’s was almost long enough for a d.a. with sly teddy-boy overtones. Glaring riot lights searched out these details as the musicians paced the stage. Then Strummer and Jones sheared into the chords of “I’m So Bored with the U.S.A.” and we were off.

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No one has ever made rock and roll as in­tense as the Clash is making right now — not Little Richard or Jerry Lee Lewis, not the early Beatles or the middle Stones or the in­spired James Brown or the pre-operatic Who, not Hendrix or Led Zep, not the MC-5 or the Stooges, not the Dolls or the Pistols or the Ramones. On a brute physical level, their combination of volume and tempo is unrivaled. Anybody with capital can turn up the amps, of course — the hard part, as an im­pressed Stanley Crouch theorized after the band’s Palladium appearance, is for the mu­sicians to turn themselves up even higher, something not even Robert Plant and Jimmy Page ever try for more than a minute or two, despite the cushion of heavy metal’s rhinoce­-beat. And fast heroes from Little Richard to the Dolls and beyond have known when to slow down, resorting to the change-of-pace much more readily than the Clash, whose dip into “Stay Free” and a speedy “Police an Thieves” induced no one in the orchestra at either concert I attended to sit, although by then simple fatigue had dropped a few. Even the Ramones do ballads and medium-tempo rockers, and the Ramones’ formalistic poses enable them to generate exhilarating music with almost no expenditure of interpretive emotion, while the Clash’s dense and expan­sive song structures, freer stagecraft, and ur­gent verbal messages demand interpretation. For the Clash, every concert is an athletic challenge far out on the shoals of expressionism, whence few new wavers return without a mouthful of brine.

And as usual, Joe Strummer seemed to be spitting something out. But his muttered im­precations about orchestra pits and Harvard City Rockers were part of the fun, and if his largely incomprehensible intro to the ob­scure “Capital Radio” — only the first few words, “Complaint time, complaint time,” emerged loud and clear from between his stumpy teeth — in fact referred to Oedipus, nobody (including Oedipus) let it get him or her down. Words, wonderful as they may have been, weren’t the point. Clearly, these first-hour ticket-buyers were among the 50,000-plus purchasers of the U.S. pressing of Give ‘Em Enough Rope, on CBS’s Epic la­bel, and the almost 50,000 who have made The Clash, on English CBS, the largest-sell­ing import album ever in this country. They were familiar with the five singles too; they probably knew half the words by heart, which is all you can expect without crib sheets. But what gave the event its drama wasn’t just the singalong cheers and out­cries — “Guns Guns shaking in terror/Guns guns killing in error”; “This is the city of the dead”; “Need a little jolt of electrical shock­er”; “Clang clang go the jail guitar doors” — ­or the clamorous, life-giving onrush of the music. It was the natural theatrical force of Strummer himself, not so much exhorting the audience directly as alerting it to the sym­bolic world it shared with him. In his most characteristic move — which he can ease with a modified buck-and-wing or heighten by collapsing toward the floor — his shoulders hunch, his eyes narrow and peer upward, and his finger points as if bombs have just darkened the ceiling. His concentration is awesome. Even during instrumental breaks or the songs Jones sings, he is a fierce pres­ence, scowling while he thrashes out his rhythm part or communing with drummer Topper Headon as if to get closer to the god of beats-per-minute.

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On our side of the P.A., this was an ecstat­ic experience. But behind the fucked-up mo­nitors, trying to make sense of the guitar Mick had borrowed after finally demolishing his decrepit ’52 Les Paul, the band felt they were putting out a lousy show, and they brooded together as press and friends abided first in the auditorium and then backstage. Eventually Mick sauntered out and took me aside for a spliff. The last time we’d seen each other, in Max’s last fall, we’d discussed fas­cism. This time Mick regaled me with a tale of love, hate, and Les Paul. “It was older than I am,” he kept saying, and it had sur­vived a broken neck at the hands of a stoned-hippie Dutch theatre manager, but the night before, in Washington, after going out of tune throughout the tour — a friend who’d caught the band’s disappointing U.S. debut in Berkeley complained about just that — it had started giving him shocks, one or two per song. So Mick, figuring one of them had to go, smashed the thing to bits; his first stop in Manhattan would be 48th Street. Telling me about it cheered him up. I asked after his mum, and learned she was flying in from Ironwood, Michigan, to see her boy play for the first time the next night. He’d be (1)  breaking in a new guitar (2) at the Palladium (3) for his mother. Pressure.

There was a lull during which I wished Oedipus luck in what he regarded as a union­-busting dispute. Then, suddenly, the whole Clash entourage was trooping off to the tour bus, so quickly that the seven minutes it took me to get my stuff from a nearby parking lot almost weren’t enough. I was last aboard, with three of the Clash already behind closed doors in the bunk section. Only Topper Hea­don remained in the bow. I later learned that he’d suggested shoving off without me if I was going to be fucking late.

“Hello, I’m Bob Christgau,” I said, stick­ing out my hand.

“Hello, I’m rude,” said Topper Headon.

In England, the Clash are now much more than the great punk inheritors — they’re a ma­jor pop group, complete with an album that entered the charts at number two and a bit of backlash in the only trade press in the world that regularly accuses artists of undue com­mercialism. Not that that’s the Clash’s crime, exactly — it’s more their failure to resolve contradictions that only they were brazen enough to confront forcefully in the first place. Like everyone else, they watched in frustration as punk disintegrated into faddish sectarianism. Despite their commitment to Rock Against Racism, their pilgrimage to Ja­maica was summed up in a song about “a place where every white face/Is an invitation to robbery.” And worst, in a time of rampant nationalism in British music they softened on America. The producer of their second al­bum turned out to be Sandy Pearlman, American ex-rock critic of Blue Oyster Cult fame (and Pavlov’s Dog infamy), apparently nominated by the band’s U.S. label. While recording they split with manager Bernard Rhodes, a former used-car salesman whose hostile, obscurantist style — like that of his mentor, Malcolm McLaren — made it seem that he’d just as soon tour Patagonia as Penn­sylvania. Then Jones and Strummer spent weeks mixing down with Pearlman in San Francisco, and dallied in New York as well.

No one misses Rhodes, now etching himself on musical memory the way Mike Appel did with Bruce Springsteen — in court. New manager Caroline Coon has been close to the band personally as Paul Simonon’s (somewhat) regular companion, but her credentials are far more substantial than that: She was both head of a hippie-era legal services program for drug arrestees and one of the first rock journalists to lay out the standard class analysis of punk. In short, her radicalism would seem to have deeper roots in a lived life than that of Rhodes, who has attacked the band’s American overtures bitterly. Yet she clearly agrees with her group that American rock and roll is barely breathing and that no one is better qualified to resuscitate it than the best rock and roll band in the world. Not surprisingly, it was Coon the administrator, rather than Coon the ideologue, who was I running what they called the Pearl Harbour Tour.

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Sitting across from me in Waylon Jen­nings’s plush outlaw bus, rented out of Nash­ville for the duration, Coon began to com­plain —for the first time in public, she insist­ed — about Epic Records. This was no shock. The parent corporation has always seemed quite unimpressed with English CBS’s plum. After rejecting the band’s magnificent debut album, first on the product-think grounds of sound quality and then because it had already sold so much as an import, Epic shilly-shal­lied for a long time on tour support for Give ‘Em Enough Rope. The predominant feeling in the company is simply that it will cost too much to break the band here. The same money — between $50,000 and $70,000 for this abbreviated swing through presold loca­tions (every venue was full), with $30,000 or so covering actual travel debits and the rest going into auxiliary promotion — could have been invested in a more established band, say a pretty good one like Cheap Trick, with a far more certain payback in additional units sold. Or it could be used to hype more pre­dictable new hard rock product like Trillion or the Fabulous Poodles.

Not that Coon was running down this kind of bottom-line reductionism to me. Her beefs were more in the area of day-to-day cash flow, and they were completely credible. If she hasn’t convinced Epic by now that these aren’t musicians whose great dream in life is to puke on their grandmothers, she’d do well to take her wares elsewhere. Coast-to-coast by bus with one plane hop from Oklahoma City to Cleveland, eight appearances in seven cities in 15 days, is a cruel grind. But the band stayed up, the Clash stage crew works faster than any I’ve waited for in years, and even the snow-delayed Cambridge show went smoothly. I’ve heard a few reports of blown interviews, and the press doesn’t seem to have made press conferences in California very interesting, but the group definitely made a sweeter impression than it used to when Rhodes was in there pitching. These were decent lads who knew what they were about. I’ve never encountered a more efficient tour.

I say this as someone who proceeded to spend over 13 hours getting from Cambridge to Manhattan. The first delay came when the driver spent an unaccountable stretch of time out of the bus. Eventually it developed that his bags had been stolen, a disclosure that stopped all conversation and so alarmed Hea­don — who’ d suffered a similar loss on the fall tour — that he was soon whispering to Coon that maybe the few dollars he’s won from tour manager Ace Penna could go to the driv­er. Still feeling Jones’s spliff, I offered (over Coon’s protestations) to put up 10 bucks my­self before discovering that I had only a five, four ones, and some 20s. Headon bid valiant­ly for 20, got nine, and disappeared into the back, returning 15 minutes later with a col­lection of about $80 for somebody who prob­ably made more in a week — after expenses, of course — than any of them.

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At around two, Jones and Strummer came forward for take-out food, and shortly after the fried egg and American cheese sandwiches, Headon set off a firecracker that scared the shit out of Jones. Both Headon and Strummer seemed genuinely concerned about this, and spent some time comforting their mate, patting his thigh and apologizing with surprising fervor. Then Jones and Strummer returned to the bunks and Hea­don, who’d been poking fun at my note-tak­ing all night, told me how at 14 he’d earned five pounds a night in trad bands around Dover, unable to leave the stage for a piss be­cause he was underage. After years of tae kwan do, a Korean martial art, his slight body was all sinew. His great dream in life was to break 15 sticks, to skins, and a frame in one night without making a mistake. Only Billy Cobham, Headon told me, has ever bro­ken a frame. Cobham, of course, is built like a football player.

Soon the bus halted again, this time for real — the brake linings had frozen. A few of us sat around a restaurant until 6, when I suggested to Strummer that he’d better get some sleep. There was room in back for me — Bo Diddley finds bunks confining and spent the night in a big corner seat — and I sacked out till 11. When I got up, I found the following additions to the cursory jottings in my notebook:

Skiddley Daddeley
Hamster Fur
Webbed Feet
473 Miles — Texas
Long Hair — Bear
Sid Vicious over …
Manhattan skyline …

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It was not until 4 o’clock, back in my apartment, that I learned — from a friend, by telephone — that China had invaded Vietnam. As it happened, my wife and I had just been getting ready to make love; instead, we tuned to WINS and sat on the bed, holding hands and talking about the end of the world. Apo­calyptic melodrama, I know — the world is never going to end. Of course not. But that was how it struck us at the time. And as the radio wound around to local news I was pos­sessed with the need to get up and put on Give ‘Em Enough Rope, the side that begins with “Guns on the Roof.” I put it on loud. It made me feel better.

Like almost all Clash fans except product-think symps, I was a little disappointed in the follow-up to The Clash, which (tinny sound be damned) may well be the greatest rock and roll album ever recorded. I mean, ordinarily I seek verbal wisdom in books — ­what rock “poetry” really involves is slogan and images and epigrams, or else settings that transfigure ideas and emotions sorely in need of some transfiguration. But on The Clash, the words did more than specify the tremendous force (and subtler cleverness and difficulty) of compelling music. They made you think all by themselves. “The truth is only known by gutter snipes,” Joe Strummer asserted in “Garageland,” and although the street roots of this rebellious diplomat’s son turned out to be hippie-squatter rather than dole-queue, his gutter truths were convinc­ing and gratifying. The working-class youths he and co-composer Jones imagined didn’t let their grim analysis get them down. Simul­taneously (even clashingly) truculent and cheerful, cynical and fraternal, they refused to become immobilized; their actions may have struck more experienced (and privileged) well-wishers as primitive — “If someone locks me out I kick my way back in”­ — but at least they were actions. Here at last was art with access to a contemporary, white, English-speaking proletarian culture. It pos­ited kids whose very determination to survive took guts and whose unwillingness to give up the idea of victory was positively heroic.

On Give ‘Em Enough Rope this generous vi­sion was stymied by perplexities all too famil­iar to experienced well-wishers. This major (and privileged) pop group sounded as wea­ried by the failure of solidarity, the persist­ence of racial conflict, the facelessness of vio­lence, and the ineluctability of capital as some bunch of tenured Marxists, and I wasn’t ready to settle — they’d amazed me by coming up with a new beginning, and just like my English colleagues I wanted them to amaze me again by carrying it through. But the familiar contradictions followed upon the invigorating gutter truths for excellent rea­son — they were truths as well. And at a time when two supposedly communist nations were girding up to ravage each other (not to mention me) I found that the way Give ‘Em Enough Rope transfigured its old ideas and emotions was useful in a way I hadn’t felt much need of before. The music channeled my fear into anger and lent me the spirit to do what I had to do. Which was go to another Clash concert, and if you weren’t there I’m sorry. As Alan Platt put it in The SoHo Week­ly News: ”It would be a pity if the impending nuclear holocaust prevented you from seeing this band.”

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I found the vibes at the Palladium inauspi­cious, not because of potential H-bomb but because the edge of anticipation was dulled by curiosity-seekers — bizzers, celebs, plain old rock and rollers. Opening were the Cramps, who are finally achieving the contemptuous rigidity they have sought so faithfully for so long; I’m glad the Clash tried to hire local bands with women in them, and would suggest the Erasers, Nervus Rex, or even DNA next time. Bo Diddley was backed by an intriguing combo — four black men and a white woman guitarist — but (with no help from the show-mes in the audience) couldn’t make it jell. Yet from the moment the Clash came on the crowd was on its feet, and that this was only to be expected says a lot in itself. Perhaps heightened expectations were why the seen-it-all audience was still holding back a little at the encore of a perfor­mance the musicians themselves thought the best of the tour. That was when Strummer announced (quite undefensively, I thought) that New York was as tough as London. Shortly thereafter the Clash broke into a brief rave-up on “London’s Burning” that scorched New York good. I’ve run across those who were basically unmoved. But I’ve heard stuff like “swept away,” “almost-tran­scendent,” “left me slack-jawed” from doz­ens of others.

Those not too familiar with the band re­ported themselves transfixed by Strummer, but the more knowledgeable raved about Jones, who had some night. In Cambridge his spare leads had worked almost sublimi­nally, skimming the edges, but at the Palladium he cut through the tumult, intensifying both the concentration and the canny disarray of the music with his clangorous counter-statements. He also sang as if his mother might be listening, getting through the tricky “Stay Free” — a greeting to a mate out of jail that translates the band’s new political wari­ness into personal warmth — without a clinker. What impressed me about Strummer was how his strumming drove the band, freeing Simonon’s bass for the military embellish­ments he favors and allowing Headon to nudge the music toward an occasional Jama­ican accent. Not that there’s too much of that yet. These boys force the rhythm for sure.

I’d hoped the Clash would commemorate the onset of World War III with a well-chos­en propagandistic flourish, but it could almost have been any rock gig that happened to feature lines about wealth distribution and letter bombs. When Mick came center stage to sing “Hate and War” — “An if I close my eyes they will not go away/You have to deal with it/It is the currency” — he mentioned that the song had special meaning on the day China invaded Vietnam. And that was how he dealt with it. But after the concert, in a dressing room crammed with paparazzi bait, he flourished a paraphrase of the old Tempts’ song: ”If it’s war that you’re running from,” he sang without a clinker, “There’s no hiding place.” Then he cited Nostradamus, not my idea of a reliable source, and offered his own prediction: “I figure they’ll pick off two or three cities by the end of the year. Or do you think I’m doomsayer-mongering? Am I some kind of nihilist, Christgau?”

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Obviously, people who go out and do what they have to do with as much determination as the Clash aren’t nihilists. A harder-line po­litico than me might even suspect they’re get­ting too goddamn constructive. Do they want to turn into the Who or something? Well, in 1979 terms, maybe they do. This band re­vives insurrectionary international conscious­ness as a rock dream. And puny as any rock dream may seem in the face of World War III, that one is a long way from where we are. Epic apologists talk about how the Clash start out from “below ground zero” as a result of all the punk stuff, but in fact the band has a deeper hole to deal with — the one in which the music biz, records and radio both, hoped to bury the kind of rock and roll that is an abrasive, and/or inspirational force in peo­ple’s lives.

I’m a skeptic, but I find it hard to believe that a band this good isn’t going to dig its way out. They’ve clearly impressed Epic, but if Epic doesn’t take the shot — the band wants additional support for “a proper tour” begin­ning in June — someone else will. And then maybe they can get to the place Strummer described a few months ago in the British magazine Time Out: “All we want to achieve is an atmosphere where things can happen. We want to keep the spirit of the free world. We want to keep out that safe, soapy slush that comes out of the radio… All we’ve got is a few guitars, amps, and drums. That’s our weaponry.”

What else can a poor boy do? Lots of things. But these particular poor boys have their work cut out for them. ♦

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CULTURE ARCHIVES From The Archives From The Archives MUSIC ARCHIVES

We Have to Deal With It: Punk England Report

I recently spent nine days pursuing punk rock in England without once trying to contact the Sex Pistols. I just didn’t have the time. The Sex Pistols are superstars, at least momentarily, and contacting superstars is more trouble than it’s worth even when nothing else is happening, which was hardly the problem in London and the other English cities I visited. Anyway, second-hand contact with the Pistols was as inescapable as tales of the Weathermen used to [be] around the Movement in 1970.

Paranoid Backbiters

Many informed sources offered tidbits about drugs and sex, said to interest the Pistols more than they pretended, and about record producers and movie directors — Cambridge rock avant-gardist Fred Firth, a hero of Johnny Rotten’s, was in contention for the first job, while Hollywood decadent Russ Meyer, who had wanted to set Sid Vicious to fucking his (screen) mother, was on his way out of the other. But one theme overshadowed the gossip: failure. Again and again the fear was expressed that the Pistols had blown it. Having replaced bassist Glen Matlock with nonmusician Vicious in February, I was told, Rotten had deprived the band of its most gifted composer, and now a Rotten-Vicious faction was feuding with a Jones-Cook faction and with manager Malcolm McLaren. The Pistols’ long-awaited album would include only three songs written since Matlock’s departure and cost as much to produce as a Richard Perry extravaganza. It was even reported that the Pistols’ deal with American Warners had been finalized only because McLaren and his minions had already gone through the 150,000 quid advanced them by EMI, A&M, and Virgin in England. The original strategy had been to postpone the assault on the U.S.A. Now, suddenly, it was sink-or-swim time, for the Pistols and maybe for everybody.

It’s only natural for so much of the paranoid backbiting that afflicts English punk to be aimed at the Sex Pistols, who began the movement and who symbolize it not only to the outside world but to the punks themselves. Notorious antistars, dole-queue kids awash in record-biz money, nihilists who have made something of themselves, the Pistols are everything punks are supposed to be, and more — they live out the contradictions most punk musicians have barely begun to dream about. No wonder they’re resented: If we are to believe that punk’s future is up to the Pistols — and that is definitely the conventional wisdom — then their fall could well precipitate everyone else’s. But at least the Pistols, unlike almost everyone else, have someplace to fall from. What will be left for the others? Their picture in the papers, a self-produced record or two, perhaps a brief contract with a treacherous major, and the chance to watch a few posers make a career out of a defunct fad that once promised life.

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What makes this scenario more bitter is that it proceeds from the star system punk challenges so belligerently. The English punks, with their proud, vitalizing concentration on the surface of things, rebel against rock royalty on the obvious ground that a pop elite cannot represent the populace. But they miss a subtler paradox: the apparent inability of most rebels to do without heroic images. When an idea turns into a movement as fast as punk did, chances are that some leadership figure is out there symbolizing away, and that if the symbol should fade or crumble the movement will find itself at a loss.

The loss would be a big one. Only 10 of the 20 bands I managed to catch in my nine days played genuine punk — vocals shouted over raw, high-speed guitar chords and an inflexible beat. But within that tiny sample, three or four bands — the Clash, X-Ray Spex, the Killjoys, and perhaps the Cortinas — put on hotter shows than any I’ve seen from the year’s newcomers at CBGB, where the infusions of energy have been provided by born-again old-timers like John Cale and Alex Chilton or improved vintage-1975 stars like Blondie and Richard Hell. What’s more, punk was clearly making itself felt in the other music I saw. Weirdos like Elvis Costello and Ian Dury and Wreckless Eric do not sell out Birmingham Town Hall when the pop environment is stable. All-female French blues-rock bands like the Lous do not open major concerts if some Wardour Street money man controls the bill. Bluegrassers turned pub-rockers turned hit journeymen like the Kursaal Flyers do not dirty up their guitar sound and smash television sets on a suburban stage just because the fancy strikes them.

But if punk were to do a quick fizzle because of the Pistols, it would be more than unfortunate. It would be unfair. Johnny Rotten is an inspiration and a media focus out of a flair for self-dramatization that is coextensive with his extremism. He is typical of nothing. No matter how much he is imitated (and he was imitated by a fast-moving cult well before Glen Matlock said fuck on television and started the avalanche), he will never be a punk prototype — not because he is monumentally talented, which is beside the point, but because he comes a lot closer to genuine nihilism than often happens in the world. If he should fail, his nihilism will be at the root of his failure. It will have turned people off the Sex Pistols, and hence (in our paranoid backbiters’ scenario) off punk in general. Yet no matter what you’ve seen on Weekend, most punks are not nihilists. Bored, cynical, destructive? Well, perhaps, at least in part. But all that’s been blown out of proportion, as well, and nihilism is a lot further on down the road.

In fact, one thing that has made English punk so attractive — both to well-wishers like me and to full-time recruits — has been its idealism. Despite all the anti-hippie feeling, it really is Haight ’67 that it most recalls — not in content, but in form. It’s a new counter-culture; the sense of ferment and burgeoning group identity more than compensates for the confused sectarian squabbling, although maybe I’d be harder to please if I’d been around when hopes were highest. And in a way, it is the tragic end of hippie — not the disintegration of a generation the punks were never part of in the first place, but the way longhaired guitar assholes have continued to preach their hypocritical go-with-the-flow — that has imbued punk idealism with its saving skepticism. These kids may be naive, but they’re not foolish. They know the world is a hostile place.

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First Person Plural

Having watched the Lous (enjoyed with no audible sexist remarks) and Richard Hell and the Voidoids (received with fair enthusiasm in back and moderate-plus pogoing up front) from a limited-access balcony, I decided to take my notebook down into the Clash crowd at the University of Leeds, 200 miles north of London. The capacity of the room, which looked like an old-fashioned church rec hall only bigger, was officially 2200; 1800 tickets were sold to a crowd that appeared to break down two-to-one student-to-punk and at least nine-to-one male-to-female. Everyone was standing, even though it was intermission, and the rear half of the hall was mostly empty. I’d found out that as a competent New Yorker I could push to the front of most English crowds, but that was out of the question in this press so I stood toward the back and listened to two students behind me talk like upper-class twits. Phil Spector and even some Kraftwerk came over the P.A. to augment the customary dub, the bass-based reggae English punks love the way early hippies loved blues. But as the wait stretched past 45 minutes push began to turn to shove up front, and I wrote with some annoyance: “an intermission worthy of Black Sabbath.” That was the last time I thought of my notebook until after the Clash had finished.

The beginning I remember clearly. The band came out looking quite hale in what might almost have been store-bought punk safari gear, shirts and chinos with lots of zippers; the sole bizarre touch was the artfully tattered fishnet top on bassist Paul Simonon. Straightaway, using a conversational version of the friendly, stump-toothed, wet-mouthed, muttery snarl he sings with, Joe Strummer leaned into the mike and said, “We’ve come to play some of the heavy metal music you love so well.” Then there was a rush of fast guitar noise and everything became an exciting blur. I remember a lot of up-and-down motion in the audience — timid bobbing to the balls of the feet in back, wild pogoing up front. I remember the twits behind me singing along. I remember thinking that it was quite good, but not mind-blowing, and going upstairs to be with my wife. I remember the entire crowd shouting along — “I’m so bored with the Yew, Ess, Ay,” “White riot, wanna riot” — with no coaxing from the stage. I remember wondering how I would feel when they finally got to my favorites — “Career Opportunities,” “Garageland,” “Janie Jones.” And I remember my mind gusting away when they did.

Before I left the States, The Clash had replaced the Vibrators’ Pure Mania as my favorite English Punk LP. Apparently tuneless and notoriously underproduced, it was, I knew, a forbidding record, especially since the mix was dominated by Strummer’s vocals, which I loved for an unmusicality others found ugly. Because of Strummer’s cockney pronunciation and bad teeth, lyrics were hard to make out; my enjoyment increased markedly after I obtained a crib sheet, but I was annoyed at times by the band’s more cynical me-firstisms. After seeing them, though, I stopped hedging.

Visually, the three front-liners — guitarist Mick Jones, Strummer, and Simonon, the cute one — generated a perfect, condensed punch. They occupied their far-flung locations on stage like a unit of partisans charged with some crucial beachhead — instead of roaming around to interact, the way most exciting rock groups do, they held to their posts. Yet at the same time they seemed to be having lots of fun, with Jones marching jubilantly behind his mike, Simonon executing flashy Cossack split steps in his big boots, and Strummer eventually falling to the floor in an elation that seemed entirely of the moment. It became clear that many of the bitter lyrics that had always made me laugh — “I wanna walk down any street/Looking like a creep/I don’t care if I get beat up/By any kebab Greek” — were in fact intended to be funny. Also, I began to hear what was missing in the album’s sound — there was a lot more guitar in the live mix, good punk guitar, chordally elementary but rejecting hip musical platitudes, with Jones’s terse leads clanging irrepressibly against Strummer’s below-the-belt rhythm. This music lacked neither craft nor melody; it did what it set out to do with formidable verve. The songs were about as cynical as one of the football cheers they recalled, and they had a lot more content.

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For me, the Clash are almost a return to the time when I had to see A Hard Day’s Night before I could tell Paul from George. They are the Clash, not four guys who play in the Clash — not a star-and-support outfit or reconstituted supergroup. Drummer Nicky Headon, much the last to join, has yet to achieve his place in the gestalt, but the three front-liners form an indivisible body; their separation on stage (which isn’t always absolute, I’m told) strengthens the group’s structural unity. Perhaps this is simply because Simonon, the most visual of the three and one of the many punk bassists to reject Bill Wyman–style immobility, makes it impossible for Strummer and/or Jones to take over. But that it should work out this way reflects the English take on the punk attitude, in which hippie love-in-the-sky is replaced by provisional solidarity, alliances no less potent for their suspiciousness. I feel confident that next time I see the band, Nicky Headon will have gained full partnership. That’s the kind of lads they are.

After the gig, about half of the eight or so groupies I’d spotted — including the one who’d been trying unsuccessfully to crack a whip backstage — were visible at the hotel. Joe was obviously proud of his catch, announcing genially: “She’s a college girl. She speaks French.” Then he whispered a message to me in her ear. The young woman — nervous, attentive, and dressed (like most of her sisters) in Frederick’s of Hollywood support garments and Threepenny Opera cosmetics, translated: “Tu ressembles à Woody Allen, mais tu as les cheveux longues.” Later I had a talk with Mick about his hobby, which is reading; he recommended Brighton Rock, Decline and Fall, and his favorite, Christopher Isherwood’s Berlin Stories. We discussed the Socialist Workers’ confrontation strategy for defeating the National Front. And he told me about his mother, a former movie actress who lives in Michigan and sends him Creem. Recently she mailed off some song lyrics; they were, Mick sighed, “all about the desolation of living in the city with safety pins.” He’d encouraged her to continue writing, though. He just advised that she try to keep things more optimistic.

Except for the Sex Pistols, the Clash are the biggest punk group in England, but that’s not as impressive as American punk fans imagine. Punk is very much a minority music in England; while the Clash were not quite filling a 2200-capacity venue in Leeds, Yes was selling out six nights at London’s Wembley, which seats 6000. Anyway, to call the Clash number two is stretching it, like saying the Stones were number two in 1964, when the Hollies and Gerry and the Pacemakers were both doing better on the charts. United Artists’ Stranglers have outsold CBS’s Clash by far and may even pass the Pistols. But (as with Gerry and the Pacemakers) nobody takes the Stranglers seriously because (like the Hollies) they commercialize what should be a music of discovery. The Clash have status, significance, symbolic clout. They are the class of the field, defining its possibilities; most of the punk peoples I spoke to in England — hardly a cross-section, but an influential minority — preferred them to the Pistols. So do I.

Because its suppositions are critical and apparently pessimistic where those of Beatlemania and hippie were full of hope, punk turns ideas upside down. The Stranglers, who sing about fucking rats and assaulting women, qualify for vilification as commercial because their subject matter recapitulates the received, best-selling, megapolitical macho of heavy metal. And a revised definition of commercial makes for an even stranger reversal: Although the Sex Pistols definitely got there first, always the prime issue in the Beatles-Stones rivalry of the ’60s, the Pistols are to the Clash what the Stones were to the Beatles in both musical strategy and general scariness. The switch is that this time the buying public prefers the Pistols/Stones. After all, in a world where nihilistic offensiveness has become a popular option, they offer a relatively uncomplicated message dramatized by a single, visible antihero. And in that sense they’re easy to sell.

It is because the Pistols are more accessible that the committed English punk tends to identify with the Clash. For him, it’s simple: they’re his. But for participant observers like me, it’s more complicated. Say that the Pistols’ negativism — passionate, closely observed, and good to dance to though it certainly is — seems a bit facile compared to the Clash’s jubilantly militant ensemble aggression. Even better, say that in 1965 we loved the Beatles’ ebullience but found that we wanted (and needed) the cautionary, hard-edged, rather dangerous irony of the Stones, while in 1977 we get off on the Pistols’ promise to tear it all down but find that the Clash help us imagine what it might be like to build it back up again. Of course, what makes my first person plural more satisfying is that one can imagine both participant observers and committed punks sharing in the building. But it’s best to be careful with what is basically a rhetorical device, a revised version of the rock and roll “we.” The solidarity it implies is so theoretical it makes the provisional solidarity among the punks themselves seem as irrevocable as Arthurian fealty.

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Participant Observers and La Vie Boheme

After my crash course in English youth culture, all I’m clear about is that it’s much more complicated than anything we’re used to here. I don’t know how many kids actually perceive all the arcane detail, but some obviously do. Accustomed to rigid tracking in the schools and a class system unashamed of its name, they define subcultures for themselves; these are picked up in the popular press and thus propagated, formalized, and put to death. Yet of the six big ones — teddy boys, rockers, mods, hippies, skinheads, punks — all but the mods and rockers are still around. (Those who presume the skinheads extinct didn’t confront 80 of them marching out of a Sham 69 gig two months ago; for that matter, enclaves of rockers are said to survive at motorway cafs.) Except for the hippies, who began in America, each of these groups crystallized around the style innovations of working-class teenagers, who dress just as obsessively as black and Latin kids do in this country, and a lot more regimentally. But because street fashions have some of the same sort of upward mobility in England that they do here, these uniforms are no more likely to remain purely working-class than are the subcultures they symbolize.

For the punks, this sociological fact of life is traumatic, because the punks are ideologically working class. There was a certain ambiguous nosethumbing in the outmoded posh of the teds’ Edwardian gear, and the rockers probably resented the implicit upward mobility of the mods as much as the skinheads resented the putative classlessness of the hippies. But despite the English tradition of resenting the rich and an adolescent anti-establishment bias that alienated them from anyone with power, these groups took class pretty much as a given. No so the punks. Punks are equally scornful of the scant material rewards of welfare capitalism and the boredom that inevitably deadens what rewards there are; they’re hostile to America and hate the cultural imperialism of television with a passion that elevates cliché into myth. But more than that, they place blame. Their us-against-them isn’t young-against-old or hip-against-square, but a war of the deprived against the privileged.

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It would be nice to say that punk’s class consciousness arose spontaneously from the dole queues and council flats and dead-end educational levels of a depressed Britain. But since most working-class kids, including those without work, don’t really identify with punk, it’s more accurate to credit the musicians themselves with the analysis, and in fact a lot of it has come from participant observers — semi-official theoreticians in management and journalism. Malcolm McLaren, the self-described anarchist who launched the Sex Pistols from his anti-couture boutique (called first Rock On, then Too Fast To Live, Too Young To Die, then Sex, and currently Seditionaries) understood early on how butch working-class fashion iconography might épater le bourgeois. Caroline Coon of Melody Maker and Jonh Ingham of Sounds (a couple at one time) perceived punk as a movement that could only occur in a deteriorating economic environment — although it combined the hoodlum-friends-outside youth politics of rock and roll with more “bolshie” counter-culture ideas. And Bernard Rhodes, a East End Jew who worked for McLaren before he began to manage the Clash, gave the music a more explicitly leftwing cast.

But especially significant, I think, was a “real” punk proficient at both journalism and music business — Mark P., who brought all this raw art and rough theory together in his Xeroxed fanzine, Sniffin’ Glue, and then, with the help of rock-biz pro Miles Copeland, became the finest of the punk a&r men on his own Step-Forward label, responsible for strong singles from Chelsea, the Cortinas, and the Models. A teen genius with vanguard instincts in both music and politics, Mark P. was the East End council-flats guyser that punk legend is made of, and as near as I can tell, it was from Sniffin’ Glue that the whole issue of class authenticity in punk, the anti-poser ethic, really took off. I did it. Mark P. said, and now you should. And so fanzines sprouted by the score, and pioneer fans organized pioneer groups like Siouxsie and the Banshees, Subway Sect, and the Slits. Outsiders became more and more suspect.

Because they are interested in survival as well as boredom, English punk bands have never pretended to be dumb. Sentimentality and intellectualism are out, but the prevailing mood encourages the (admittedly satiric) Snivelling Shits to attack “Terminal Stupid” and the (admittedly demi-commercial) Boomtown Rats to boast: “I’m gonna go somewhere where it doesn’t stink/Away from the alleys, somewhere I can think.” What does slip into the rhetoric, however, is the implication that Johnny Rotten or Mick Jones or Mark P. is an ordinary guyser, a bloke who goes to see bands like anybody else. Needless to say, this is nonsense. Despite the usual lemmings, loonies, and losers, the fringe people that fringe movements like punk always attract, punks tend to be bright and sensitive — they have to be, to detach themselves from the accepted belief that one’s lot is one’s just dessert unless one manages to work one’s way out of it. Nevertheless, Rotten and Jones and Mark P. are a lot more gifted than most punks — and probably than you or me as well.

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At work here is a delusion over-25s will recall from the hippie days: the we-are-youth line. To their credit, punks don’t pretend to be everybody’s brothers and sisters. They savage contemporaries who don’t share their self-interests — the grammar-school boys, the art students, the revitalized teds — and they savage each other with continual exhortations to cut the shit. “Try to evade reality/And now you’re just a novelty,” warn the Killjoys, and when punks at the Vortex cheered the news of Elvis’s death — another old fart gone — Danny Baker of Sniffin’ Glue grabbed the mike in a rage and reminded them just where they’d be without him. But like most minority groups, they take comfort in the thought that their situation is not only of central social significance, but also the source of magic powers. The notion that Everypunk can just walk off the dole queue and make great rock and roll is essential to their sense of themselves.

Behind punk’s belief in its own magic is the old idea that if you live close enough to the edge of reality you gain some special grip on it. But despite the legend their edge doesn’t turn out to depend on brutal poverty. Poly Styrene, the mulatto who leads X-Ray Spex, giggles that compared to where she grew up council flats are pretty soft, and Joe Strummer jeers at the way Americans romanticize Britain’s plight: “ ’Ey fink it’s really orful over here, don’t they? ’Ey fink we can’t afford ’arf a pint o’ beer.” In fact, many punk musicians live at home and spend their meager dole or boring-job or gig money on themselves, and not all boast impeccably impecunious pedigrees. Joe Strummer has been exposed as the son of a career diplomat who was himself born working-class (as well as the former lead singer of a band of hippie squatters called the 101’ers), the parents of the Damned’s Rat Scabies invited disc jockey John Peel to a sherry evening in a well-to-do London suburb, signing the engraved card “Mr. and Mrs. Scabies”; the Cortinas are middle-class boys from Bristol; Chelsea’s Gene October, author of the militant “Right To Work,” is reputedly of moneyed stock. So when reporters discover middle-class thrill-seekers at punk gigs, that’s hardly surprising. Only because the punks themselves have made an issue of posing does such evidence appear damning to those who’d just as soon dismiss them anyway.

Perhaps the way to understand it is this: Rather than a working-class youth movement — potentially revolutionary, proto-fascist, or symptomatic of the decadence of our times — punk is a basically working youth bohemia that rejects both the haute bohemia of the rock elite and the hallowed bohemian myth of classlessness. Not that it’s purely working-class (or purely youth, for that matter). But it gives the lie to the (basically Marxist) cliché that bohemia must always be petit-bourgeois. For punk, class replaces such bohemian verities as expressive sexuality and salvation through therapy/enlightenment/drugs. It is a source of identity and a means of self-realization. So the Cockney accent replaces the blues voice, and disdain for luxury becomes an affirmation of fellowship with one’s allies’ rather than a withdrawal from the economic world.

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Punk doesn’t want to be thought of as bohemian, because bohemians are posers. But however vexed the question of their authenticity, bohemias do serve a historical function — they nurture aesthetic sensibility. Punk definitely has attracted musicians hiding arty little secrets; if Mick Jones acknowledges having gone on scholarship to art school, that unfairly discredited rock institution, can Dave Vanian be far behind? Nor is it surprising that the best punk retailer-distributor, Rough Trade, is run by an idealistic Cambridge lit grad in the boho stronghold around Portobello Road. That many entrenched (and lapsed) bohemians regard punks as mindless yobs doesn’t mean half as much as the observant participation of disaffected university students, restless suburban teens, and assorted dropouts. Most of the hip folks I know could use a shot of punk, which revives the oldest bohemian tradition — artists with no visible means of support banding together against the cruel world.

Of course, most of these kids aren’t artists, and they often enjoy invisible support from their parents or the state. But it’s equally obvious that for talented working-class rebels denied access to Britain’s scarce, narrow, and overcrowded escape routes, bohemianism — in which poverty is no bar to freedom, identity, and the pleasures of the moment — presents a way out. A recent study among the supposedly middle-class hippies of Birmingham, for instance, revealed that most of those who’d stuck with the lifestyle had working-class origins. Of course, Marxists can dismiss hippies and punks alike as lumpen because, unlike real working-class people, they’re not interested in work. But it remains true that for punks class is a charged category. They have raised both their own consciousness and that of the participant observers who are now part of their movement, and it’s at least conceivable that when they all grow up they’ll unite to marshal their energy into a real attack on the system they detest.

I’m as skeptical as the punks are, and I hardly expect this to happen. But I do think punk represents an advance in sensibility. Those punks who aren’t direct victims of the economic rationalizations that have been wreaking drab havoc over Britain have certainly been induced to think about them a lot. The edge they all claim, their magic handle on reality, is that they’re painfully familiar with powerlessness. And they want no part of it.

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The Bad Stuff

I’m aware that I’ve made the punks sound like poverty-stricken lads who only want to build a better life for themselves, and that this probably doesn’t jibe with your preconceptions. What about the safety pins and dog collars, you must be wondering. What abut the violence? What about the misogyny and pathological anomie? What about that groupie with the whip?

Well, my guess is that six months from now safety pins and dog collars — but not the wonderful spikey punk hair — will be as passé as platform shoes, replaced by less disquieting concepts in costume jewelry. But the rest of the bad stuff seemed durable enough. I saw fans betoken their affection by gobbing — spitting, in thick gobs — at their idols, I saw X-Ray Spex abandon the stage to their own rampaging fans, and I saw little Kevin Roland of the Killjoys placekick one kid off the monitors without missing a beat. I witnessed numerous fistfights. I learned that punks sometimes pogo with their hands at each other’s throats and embrace in holds that resemble hammerlocks. And I read both Strummer and Rotten On Love. Strummer: “I can love them providing they don’t come near me.” Rotten: “Love is what you feel for a dog or a pussy cat. It doesn’t apply to humans.”

Yet none of this was anywhere near as appalling as I’d expected. I mean, I almost didn’t bring my down jacket for fear someone would knife me and the feathers would all fly out, but the most antagonistic remark any punk offered in nine days was when some youngster addressed me as “Guv’nor” after I declined to share my beer with him. Admittedly, I didn’t spend much time with the punk on the street, and I worry that I’ve somehow been hoodwinked by the British music biz, which is now taking the line that punk is nothing more than teenagers venting their (oh so sociologically justified) frustrations. But while I continue to find some punk music frightening, I am no longer very scared by the punks themselves. On the contrary, I consider their hostility healthy, especially in view of how much they’ve been maligned.

Gobbing I could do without, as could the gobbed-upon, but even gobbing carries metaphorical weight, a weight that reaches its zenith in the pogo. The pogo is more than oafs jumping up and down; its reputation as an idiot dance preceding a punch-up misses entirely the joy, humor, and madness of the real thing. Pogoers don’t just jump — they leap, as high as they can for as long as they can, exhilarated to the point of exhaustion. The dance is very physical, with much flailing and crashing near the center, and most pogoers are male. At first they flew strictly solo, but soon couple-dancing began, and with it the stranglehold developed. It was startling to see two 16-year-old boys, their faces shining with sweat and glee, pretending to throttle each other in what amounted to an airborne playfight. But I hadn’t encountered such joyful-looking kids at a rock concert in years. This dance did justice to something about rock and roll that all the fast steps and sexy grinds ignored — its exultant competitiveness, its aggressive fun.

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Not that pogoers confine themselves to playfighting. People trip and tromp on each other and come to blows — less often than has been reported but more than at a Renaissance concert. Only who needs a Renaissance concert? This is rock and roll, and in England rock and roll (like football, only less so) has always occasioned violence. Yet there were only one or two scuffles a night at the gigs I attended, and I neither saw nor was told about anything to compare, for instance, with the Beatles’ second professional engagement, where a 16-year-old boy was kicked to death. I would describe firecrackers at Bad Company concerts as violent, and I would describe Johnny Rotten’s vocal attack as violent. But I would describe punk as rough.

It is also of course predominantly male. But this, too, must be understood in the context of England, which has produced a rock folkway without exact parallel in the States — the boys bands, with their all-boy audiences. “Quo, Sabbaf, and ’Eep” — a legend you can still see on the backs of jackets — were and are boys bands; so was Mott the Hoople, the group Mick Jones used to follow around. This sort of fandom is clearly much like rooting for a football team, with the ominous difference that rock’s sexual content — admittedly downplayed among the four boys bands I’ve mentioned — might be more sanely absorbed in a coed environment. Jones was amused that the Clash now seemed to be a boys band, and expressed the hope that the photogenic Simonon would break the pattern via the teenybop magazines — not so much to up the band’s market share as to humanize its audience.

But beyond such camaraderie there is a lot of woman-hating in English punk — not as much as is reported, once again, but more, among significant groups, than in America. Lately the Stranglers, who can be passed off as pseudopunks, have given up their Gold Dildo to Eater, who cannot: “Why don’t you get raped/Why don’t you get raped/Why don’t you get raped/Go and get fucked.” You can call this underclass scapegoating, you can talk about the virtues of irony, you can talk about the virtues of candor, you can even praise certain artists for exposing misogyny as the anti-sex sociopathy it is. Say anything you like — those lyrics are still hateful.

They’re not the whole story, though. On specific songs — the Sex Pistols’ “Bodies,” for instance — the power of the statement does, I think, justify and perhaps even necessitate the hatefulness. And there’s something more important, especially if you believe, as I do, that an aggressive popular art like rock and roll is a better way to fuse righteous anger than acoustic folk songs or documentaries about the siblinghood of humankind. For coexisting with the misogyny is an unprecedented opportunity for women to make rock and roll. Mick Jones voiced the prevailing attitude: “There ought to be as many girls in bands as boys by now. But if I’m gonna like ’em, they gotta be as tough as we are.” In addition to the all-female Lous and X-Ray Spex (led by a young woman who braved the onstage pogoing of her admirers long after her male musicians beat their retreat), I ran across a bassist and two keyboard players in three other bands. That’s not exactly a population explosion, but it does represent a significant increase over the number of females who played electric instruments at the Palladium in 1977, one, a punk, Patti Smith, because in punk conceptual energy does the work of chops, which means you needn’t have decided to be a rock star 10 years ago to become one now. Not that punk women seem any more inclined to be feminists than punk men. They choose names like the Castrators and the Slits. They talk about free sex like acolytes of the Playboy Philosophy. And they believe in looking out for themselves. Says 16-year-old Arri Up of the Slits: “The reason there’s hardly any girl rock ’n’ roll stars is because most girls are not strong enough in their own minds.”

I hope Arri figures out sometime just why girls have this problem, insofar as they do, and insofar as it’s a problem. I also hope Joe Strummer and Johnny Rotten change their hearts and minds about love. The fervent alienation that fuels such ideas suggests an egoism and a crippled capacity for outreach that alarm me. The most encouraging note I can add is that egoism and crippled outreach are no less adolescent than idealism and a desire to reach out, and that maturing — exotic term — is basically a process of becoming aware that other people exist. Hippie romanticized youth’s potential for good and continually foundered on its gift for evil. Punk errs in the other direction, but the good is there too, however reluctantly acknowledged, and it may develop more naturally if not too much is expected of it. The thought of punk growing up is not an altogether happy one — its energy is almost as rooted in self-centeredness as its strength is in solidarity. But I hope it does grow up, because it’s going to get older regardless.

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What Is to Be Done?

The word “punk” can refer to a music and/or a youth movement because the two are inseparable. Not even rockabilly or disco, and certainly not “psychedelic” rock, have enjoyed such a clear, before-and-after, cause-and-effect relationship with a support subculture. In fact, punk rock was conceived by Malcolm McLaren and Bernard Rhodes (out of the intuitions of avant-punks like Iggy and David Johansson) to inspire, or to give shape to, such a subculture. Not that it turned out exactly the way its prophets imagined — the unpredictability of talent was essential to what they wanted to instigate. Still, their ideas have had appreciable effect.

While in England I looked up pioneer punk propagandist Jonh Ingham. Ingham was a student of mine at the California Institute of the Arts when he decided to change the spelling of his name in 1970. This precocious bit of image-building was typical of both his sharpness and his shallowness, but punk has clearly deepened him. The apolitical acidhead now wears a Marx patch, and the lines around his eves belong to someone who’s discovered passion. Not that he’s so passionate any more. For Ingham, the turning point came last January, when McLaren, instead of investing the Pistols’ settlement from EMI in a punk counter-economy, chose to expand punk — or at least his punks — on establishment capital. So it was going to limit itself to good groups after all, Ingham said to himself. Within months he was managing Generation X, now signed to Chrysalis.

The punk counter-economy, such as it is, was destined to arise anyway. “It was easy, it was cheap, go out and do it,” sang the Desperate Bicycle, who produced their own single for £153 in March, 1977, basically to show people it could be done, just as the Desperate Bicycles themselves might have learned from Australia’s Saints (who scored a 1976 counterhit by mailing their 45 to U.K. journalists; and Manchester’s Buzzcocks. Many of these instant labels record one group exclusively, but others go on from a profitable sale — 10,000 is pretty good, 20,000 not unheard of — to work with others. It’s likely that one or two of them — London’s Deptford Fun City? Manchester’s Rabid? Cambridge’s Raw? Edinburgh’s Zoom? — will join the worldwide trend toward specialty labels for minority popular musics. In this they will be following two somewhat older indies, Stiff and Chiswick, which although they’re known here as punk labels actually cater to the audience of rock ’n’ roll discophiles who supported pub-rock.

One implication of independent production is that punk too could turn into a collectors’ music, a hobby, as is brought home by such frivolous marketing devices as the 12-inch single (saving vinyl is for hippies). But independent production doesn’t reflect punk’s eccentricity, or its idealism, so much as its refusal to withdraw from the economic world. It’s a trick of survival, a way to prepare your own demo at a profit. Mark P.’s backer and boss at Deptford-Fun City Records, Miles Copeland, is typical; he has placed his managerial clients the Cortinas with CBS and is codistributing a 12-incher with Sham 69’s new label, Polydor. Copeland, the son of a CIA bigshot, calls class consciousness “England’s big sickness” and used to advise Wishbone Ash how best to carry their hods; he struck me as one of the more dismaying professionals now attached to punk, but his business ideas are the norm. He describes how the Cortinas “wanted to go pro” and “wanted the strength of a major worldwide,” while the Buzzcocks’ manager — a 24-year-old art drop-out named Richard Boon who oversaw their debut EP on New Hormones and then signed the band to UA — talks coolly about doing an album only when the time seems right. But neither can imagine a new way to get this music out there.

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Not that I have any bright ideas. My first minutes with Joe Strummer were spent in praise of medium-sized halls, an article of faith with the punks now as it was with the Who and the Grateful Dead a decade ago, although it’s not hard to figure out that if you sell 3000 tickets a night for a brutal 300 nights a year you still don’t play to a million people, a rather small-scale cultural crusade. Strummer went along with me — modest venues were best. But then he was apparently afflicted with a racial memory of the Grateful Dead: “Nah, you do it too much that way and you get just like the hippies. Keep it small, keep it efnic…” Basically, Strummer didn’t see any way to avoid turning into what he’d rebelled against. No matter how staunch his own idealism — not that he made any inflated claims for it — someone would always be checking his rear for him. “People say, if you don’t do that the So-and-Sos are gonna catch up. You don’t wanna get behind the So-and-Sos, do ya?”

Like Jonh Ingham, I really wish it could be different, and I’m somehow disappointed with the punks for not cutting through the old masscult paradoxes. If powerlessness is your secret, shouldn’t you have something more to say about power than vague plans to recycle your capital and specific promises never to own a Bentley? But in the absence of such miracle, I agree — better the Clash than the So-and-Sos, whether the So-and-Sos are good guys like the Jam (Who-style punks-as-mods not averse to Bentleys) or the Vibrators (Velvets-style metaphysical sex on the surface and a perfect blank ambition underneath) or guys as bad as the semi-fictitious Pork Dukes, who offer a record sleeve and T-shirt depicting a woman sucking off a pig, and who are rumored on excellent authority to include two moonlighting folk-rockers from that apogee of rock gentility, Steeleye Span. But the very profusion of so-and-sos is positive, especially since even the so-called posers — both the Jam and the Vibrators are dismissed that way by much of the punk hard core — can make wonderful rock and roll. Punk really is a new wave — a new wave of musicians. Some of those so-and-sos are going to be playing the English rock and roll of the ’80s.

Which raises two questions: One, will this rock and roll remain strictly English, and two, will it remain punk rock? As extraordinary as the Clash are, they’ll have to do for an example. The Clash may be the greatest rock and roll band in the world, but they haven’t conquered Britain yet, and if they gain a following over here — which they seem in no special hurry to do — it will be proportionally smaller. Their fierce national identification strengthens their music but narrows their American potential, because our class system is afraid to speak its name. Even if their second album, unlike their first, is picked up by American Epic or some other U.S. label, I’ll be pleased if they gain enough audience to support an annual tour, perhaps inspiring some young American rocker to translate the English punk way of seeing things into terms as fiercely national as the Clash’s own. But the sustenance that keeps whatever dozen English punk bands eating and recording over the next few years should come from England.

Because finally it’s the sensibility that must survive — the sensibility that thinks in terms of class and means to bring home to us the conflicts that underlie every one of our lives. If it comes to that, I’ll even settle for hobbyists, a few genius musicians making overpriced direct-to-disc collector’s items for 10,000 connoisseurs of raw power. That’ll be enough to keep the word alive. As the Clash sing on — and about — “Hate & War”: “And if I close my eyes/It will not go away/We have to deal with it/It is the currency.” No matter how many people are resisting right now, they’re going to find out eventually that these ill-mannered boys are right.

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Counter-Counter-Culture
Punks are so much a counter-culture that they’ve produced a reaction — the teddy boys, regrouping and recruiting at an amazing clip in direct response to punk’s explicit contempt for the racism and dumb violence of working-class youthcult tradition. In Coventry, an auto-manufacturing city where I saw two punks pogoing to the Boomtown Rats in a disco, the teds were down to a few pathetic father-and-son pairs plus some stragglers only six or eight months ago. Now they dominate many youth clubs. The only music they’ll listen to is rockabilly. Another favored pastime is beating up punks.

Dirty Minds
Jimmy Pursey of Sham 69 says he got the name off the wall of a loo; it sounds good and means nothing, he insists, specifically including fake blow job. Pete Shelly of the Buzzcocks says the name of his group came from a caption in the London entertainment weekly Time Out: “Get a buzz, cock” (“cock” means roughly the same thing as “fellow” in working-class slang). When I told him that many Americans took the name as a sadistic play on “buzz saw” he seemed to feel it spoke poorly for this nation.

Superlatives
To call something extraordinary in hippie argot you would say it was “far out.” Among punks, the term is “over the top.”

Synfesis
Poly Styrene is a plump young woman the color of Kraft caramel who brings a pop-art kind of pop sensibility to punk. She prefers “synfetic” clothes and wears braces on her teeth. Reputedly a former reggae singer, she’s vague about how she made money before X-Ray Spex. But she did tell me that her manager, Falcon Stuart, used to direct films, and I know this is true because I’ve seen one — French Blue, a rather arty and off-putting exercise in king porn. This could make you worry about lyrics, like “Bind me tie me/Chain me to the wall/I wanna be a slave to you all.” But they continue: “Oh bondage up yours/Oh bondage no more.” Poly says she tries to make sure her lyrics aren’t obvious; they’re collections of images. Her artistic aim? “I try to make people fink.”

Fashion Plate
For five minutes after we were introduced, Bernard Rhodes, the Clash’s manager, subjected me to skeptical questions and comments implying that I was a poser. I held my ground, which was apparently what he wanted, because soon he was treating me to the English teen version of Sartor Resartus. “The differences are so subtle,” he told me. “Shoelaces — you can spend half an hour deciding what shoelaces to wear.” Rhodes was wearing aviator glasses, a bezippered gray cloth jacket, a Clash T-shirt, a large digital watch, jeans with rolled cuffs, chartreuse socks, and black oxfords. I did not notice anything special about his shoelaces.

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Consumer Guide
Although the exceptions are significant, most English punk is unreleased in the Yew Ess Ay, and some of it will remain so. That puts the seeker at the mercy of importers and makes genuine discount buying next to impossible. Many Village record stores now stock some “new wave,” but the best selection by far is at Bleecker Bob’s Golden Oldies, 179 MacDougal, 475-9677. Discophile, around the corner at 26 West 8th, employs a well-respected enthusiast named Michael: you should ask for him if you phone (473-1902) or drop in. Both shops charge around $7 for an album, $3 for an EP, and $2 for a single. Cheaper but more out of the way is Fantasia, at 4752 Broadway near Dyckman Street in Washington Heights, 942-9188. The two major import distributors — the rock-oriented Jem (Box 362, South Plainfield, New Jersey 07080) and Peters International (619 West 54th Street, NYC 10019) both do retail mail-order. Rough Trade, 202 Kensington Park Road, London W11, England, will also mail, and is worth visiting should you find yourself nearby, as is Rock On, 3 Kentish Town Road.

There are two essential albums in English punk: Never Mind the Bollocks, Here’s the Sex Pistols, available on American Warners, and The Clash, a CBS import that may well never be released here. Hard rock fans should pick up one and seek out the other. I know no one who was bowled over by The Clash first listen, and I know a lot of people who love it now; it’s one of my favorite records of the decade. Give it some time.

Also recommended are Pure Mania by the Vibrators (Epic import due for domestic release on Columbia January 9), revved-up and slightly arty, showing roots in pop r&b to great advantage; In the City and This Is the Modern World by the Jam (domestic Polydor), in which a very bright, very ambitious working-class rock and roller writes relevant songs because that seems the thing to do and proves so honest and thoughtful he renders all questions of posing, well, irrelevant; and side one of The Boomtown Rats (domestic Mercury), raw, nasty, relatively unhistrionic, and not without melodic appeal. The Heartbreakers never got to me in New York, but side one of L.A.M.F., a Track import recorded after their move to London, is a perfect, catchy version of (to borrow Caroline Coon’s phrase) MOR punk, in which (to borrow Greil Marcus’s image) the guitarist lays down a line of fire to cover the vocalist; side two ain’t so catchy. I am less impressed by The Boys (Nems import), Eater’s The Album (The Label import), and the two Damned LPs (Stiff import), but all have virtues and supporters — as do the Stranglers, I suppose. I don’t know anyone who likes either Eddie and the Hot Rods album.

A punk anthology I’ve been playing a lot is Streets (Beggars Banquet import); its 17 independent label cuts include no instant classics, but the overall quality, especially on side two, indicates how vital punk is as a movement right now. I find The Roxy London W.C. 2 (Jan-Apr ’77) (EMI import), a live anthology, valuable primarily as documentary. Most of the great punk on New Wave (Vertigo import) is American. And three pub-to-punk compendiums deserve mention: A Bunch of Stiff Records, Hit’s Greatest Stiffs, and Submarine Tracks & Fool’s Gold Chiswick Chartbusters, Volume One. All have been constructed with discophiliac attention to detail and all are proof that rock and roll, of all sorts, is here to collect.

With albums, idiosyncrasies of taste tend to even out over 10 or 12 cuts; singles are more hit-or-miss. The ones I happen to love are: “Complete Control”/“City of the Dead” by the Clash (CBS); “2-4-6-8 Motorway” by the Tom Robinson Band (EMI): “Oh Bondage Up Yours”/“I Am a Cliché” by X-Ray Spex (Virgin – try to find the seven-inch version); “New Rose” by the Damned (Stiff); “Johnny Won’t Get to Heaven”/“Naive” by the Killjoys (Raw); “Can’t Stand By My Baby” by the Rezillos (Sensible); “Don’t Dictate”/“Money Talks” by Penetration (Virgin); “Right To Work” by Chelsea (Step-Forward); “Do Anything You Wanna Do” by Rods (domestic Island); and “Television Screen”/“Love Detective” by the Radiators From Space. The latter was dismissed in Sniffin’ Glue as “a moronic mess”; Michael at Discophile thinks it’s worse; and on their second single and album their producer, Roger Armstrong, has slowed down the Radiators’ r&b clichés to accentuate their songwriting. I find the songs mediocre and everything but their mad debut disappointing. “I guess you haven’t had as many fast guitars in the States as we have,” Armstrong explained. Never, never — give me more.

Finally, a book: Caroline Coon’s 1988: The New Wave Punk Rock Explosion. It’s no musicological classic, but for an exploitation quickie it’s well-informed, intelligent, passionate, and good to look at. The interviews — especially with the Slits — are uniformly fascinating, if partial. Ask for it at Bleecker Bob’s. It’s an import, too.

Categories
CULTURE ARCHIVES From The Archives MUSIC ARCHIVES Uncategorized

Punk ’77: A Cult Explodes, and a Movement Is Born

1. Avant-Punk Lives

One day a few months ago it dawned on me that this time it was different. Ever since hearing the MC5 in Detroit after Chicago ’68 I had been waiting, hoping, or at least rooting for a new, clamorously urban style of rock and roll to, as they say, take over the world. All those who worked in this style consciously allied themselves with avant-garde movements in music, poetry, and/or the visual arts, and I believed that even at their most apolitical they were politically avant-garde, too, because they were uncomplacent and anti-liberal without being reactionary. These artists were always controversial. They always gathered enthusiastic journalistic support. And they always went nowhere commercially.

Detroit was not the birthplace of this avant-punk style, of course: the MC5 and the Stooges represented the second phase of a music that began in New York with the Velvet Underground. But just as the Velvets might well have originated avant-punk without thinking too much about its obvious precedents — the dirty rave-ups of the Yardbirds and the early Kinks and the garage-band one-shots of the original punks collected on Lenny Kaye’s Nuggets anthology — so the Stooges and the 5 might well have been all but unaware of the Velvets. Put young, relatively unskilled white musicians from an industrial city together with some electric guitars, grant them aesthetic acuteness by nature or nurture, and eventually it’s bound to happen: rock and roll that differentiates itself from its (fundamentally black and rural) sources by taking on the crude, ugly, perhaps brutal facts of the (white and urban) prevailing culture, rather than hiding behind its bland façade. The underlying idea of this rock and roll will be to harness late industrial capitalism in a love-hate relationship whose difficulties are acknowledged, and sometimes disarmed, by means of ironic aesthetic strategies: formal rigidity, role-playing, humor. In fact, ironies will pervade and, in a way, define this project: the lock-step drumming will make liberation compulsive, pain-threshold feedback will stimulate the body while it deadens the ears, lyrics will mean more than (missing).

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The rarity of avant-punk made it seem more precious. Between the time the Velvets formed in 1966 and the time Patti Smith began to assemble her group at CBGB in 1975, only four other bands of any consequence entered the tradition: the MC5, whose unironic crusade for hip was aestheticized by the sloppy, almost aleatory power of their feedback; Iggy and the Stooges, whose command of every star quality except fame made them the most influential of the avant-punks between the Velvets and the Ramones; the Modern Lovers, whose sole hard-rock album wasn’t released until well after Jonathan Richman’s brain had softened; and the irrepressibly irresponsible New York Dolls.

Of course, a similar buzz was provided by more profitable musicians, most prominently Lou Reed, who professionalized the Velvets’ style; Blue Oyster Cult, who aped a host of more naive groups with such immaculate impassivity that in the end they convinced not only the audience but themselves; and municipal parking garage bands like Alice Cooper and Kiss, heirs of the original punks who weren’t above stealing from their bohemian cousins. Reed’s Rock n Roll Animal is keen heavy metal; the Cult’s Agents of Fortune is history as farce; Alice’s “I’m Eighteen” is a direct forerunner of “Anarchy in the U.K.” Yet in retrospect they lack any flash of radical individualism. Not so with the avant-punks. Detractors labeled their basic approach monotonous, but the distance within what was a relatively unexplored musical territory proved vast; Emmylou Harris will satisfy your yen for Linda Ronstadt a lot better than — to choose the closest pair I can think of — the Velvets’ “White Light/White Heat” will satisfy your need for the Modern Lovers’ “Roadrunner.” And because details of approach differed so, all these bands were possessed of rock and roll’s secret: they played a supposedly uninnovative style as if they’d invented it.

Needless to say, the art-commerce dichotomy was one reason the style remained so rare; a young musician might admire Lou Reed or Iggy, but following in their footsteps required conviction. As the Dolls and Patti Smith played their rock-star roles with ironic abandon, landed big-money deals, and made second albums that sold worse than their first, it seemed painfully probable that the avant-punks’ infatuation with teen America would go forever unreciprocated. As an addict of the music, I was pleased when CBGB turned into a venue for inheritors like Television, Talking Heads, the Ramones, and Tuff Darts, and gratified when Blondie and Mink DeVille came up with better-realized albums, artistically and commercially, than I would have predicted. Maybe the heartland would finally be moved. I rooted, and I dared to hope. But I wasn’t placing bets.

That was August or so. Now, a couple of months later, avant-punk seems likely to make some sort of breakthrough. I don’t know how big it will be or whether I’ll like its shape when it’s over. All I know is that I haven’t been this excited about rock and roll in at least 10 years. I’m buying records, calling people up to announce finds, playing the Vibrators and the Radiators From Space for everyone who walks in the door. First it was isolated artists, then a vanguard, but now it looks like a movement. When dozens of groups are out there making certifiably exciting music, it’s hard to believe there isn’t also a real audience — bigger than a cult, smaller than a mass —ready to make exciting noises of its own.

2. Creative Misapprehensions

Unless you memorize Additional Consumer News and the Pazz & Jop Product Report, or peruse rock magazines other than Rolling Stone, you probably can’t quite place the Vibrators or the Radiators From Space. That’s because they’re based in England, land of the Sex Pistols and home of “new wave” “funk rock” as a social rather than a strictly artistic phenomenon. For despite all the publicity Johnny Rotten has received, the movement he symbolizes is still local to Great Britain. In the U.S., it’s “underground” — it has to be sought out. And it is.

As with Haight-Ashbury, which inspired instant on-the-spot obituaries and scant recorded music during its earliest notoriety, the British new wave is already being mourned by those who discovered it first and has occasioned only a few American-release albums so far. British punk records are available, of course — mostly as singles, mostly as imports. But their notoriety precedes them. Anyone who’s read 500 words about Johnny Rotten knows that this music embodies an uprising against youth unemployment in Britain and that the Sex Pistols’ “God Save the Queen” hit big despite a blackball by the BBC and major retailers. And anyone who ever glances at the British music press, which caters to both fans and the trade, knows punk is the hottest news in British rock since Liverpool. It’s my guess that these success stories have done more to fuel the latest burst of enthusiasm for punk in America than all the imports put together — and more, too, than any of the excellent non-hit LPs to come out of CBGB. Rock and roll has always thrived on star fever.

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Yet avant-punk began in America, and star fever was not how it spread to the U.K. When conceptually sophisticated local art movements disperse, distortion or vulgarization can result, but so can a kind of creative misapprehension that rolls right through apparent formal cul-de-sacs. That’s what happened when the Ramones toured England. The Ramones exploit the standard ironic strategies — role-playing, humor, and extreme rigidity — to make a powerful but ambiguous statement that both celebrates and mocks the frustrated energy of the ordinary American teenage male. But so unmistakably did they imply that any leather-jacketed geek can master three-chord rock and roll that in England, where teenage males were desperate for mastery in any form, all their other messages were ignored. In the wake of the Ramones summer ’76 tour, bands playing Ramonseish avant-punk sprang up all over Great Britain. But where the Ramones distanced themselves from their own vaunted dumbness (it’s not Joey Ramone the fictional character, much less the 25-year-old cat-owner behind the pseudonym, who beats on the brat or doesn’t wanna be a pinhead no more), the English punks preferred simply to flaunt theirs. In comparison, the Ramones seem attenuated — wonderful, but arty. When the Clash snarls, “I get violent/When I’m fucked up/I get silent/When I’m drugged up,” they’re saying what they have to say more directly than anyone in avant-punk since the Detroit days, and it works.

I’m not convinced, however, that the misapprehension of English punk by Americans will prove equally creative. The general jolt of activity and excitement is welcome. The kids at Max’s who recall a B side by Chris Spedding — “Do the pose/All you have to do is wear the clothes” — have vulgarized what began as brutally witty street fashions, and star fever could distort an avant-garde scene that became healthy only when it faced up to its own modest commercial potential. Although I approve of the British-inspired vogue for independent singles, I worry about how the music on the albums I hope follow is going to sound.

The irresistible straightforwardness and conviction of so much English new wave goes with an energy that is political rather than aesthetic, and no less advanced artistically for that. But the source of this energy is a state of class warfare with no real parallel in this country, where repressive desublimation still has enough money behind it to make obliqueness aesthetically appropriate. Translated into American, the sincere rage of Eater and the Clash is likely to issue in molten-metal torrents of boredom and misogyny that lack even the justification of metaphorical license. I find it ominous that when England’s Damned came over to CBGB, the opening act, Cleveland’s Dead Boys — a runty cross between macho Ted Nugent, decadent Iggy, and the despicable Stranglers — established themselves as the hottest new punks in the land.

None of which has diminished my excitement yet. English punk turns everyone who likes it into a helpless fan; because it’s still so local, there are only second-hand experts here. So I buy singles on the basis of gossip or title or picture sleeve or Pazz & Jop rating, and read whatever comes my way — Simon Frith’s column in Creem, one issue of the Xeroxed London fanmag Sniffin’ Glue, a July piece from Time that Sire Records sent me in late September. And even though Ira Robbins of Trouser Press claims it’s all over but the selling, even though a few recent parody records muster enough musical authority to excite the skepticism they intend, I’m hot to get to London and see for myself.

Meanwhile, I cling to my scraps of plastic and print and attempt my own creative misapprehension. I keep thinking of Kingston, where I spent eight days in search of reggae roots in 1973. I found then that there was no guided tour, no way to hit the record companies, radio stations, and retailers for a guaranteed overview. The roots were too deep and various to be rationalized so easily. Almost any persevering rudeboy could connect with one of the dozens and dozens of small-time record producers, plug a topic or image of the day into a rhythmic formula supplied by a community of poorly paid session men, and come up with an arresting or even important piece of music. The English punks (most of whom are reggae fans) provide their own formula — Sniffin’ Glue published a diagram of the basic chords — and sometimes scare up enough capital to become entrepreneurs themselves. I bet not all of them are poor. But they share with the rudeboys their inexperience, their threatened maleness, their potential for demagogy, their need to reconcile class identification with professional/artistic ambition, their inchoate politics of rebellion, and their ultimate vulnerability. And so they are worthy of pity and awe as well as skepticism.

To a lover of avant-punk who holds proudly to his square politics — his belief that only collective action will enable the mass of dispossessed people to attain personal power — this is a reasonable facsimile of a dream come true. I don’t expect it to last. It’s only culture, flawed culture, ridden with evident contradictions and resting on a material substructure of monumental inertia and fearsome ill will. But for the moment I’ll settle. Rock and roll!

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3. Fascism, Sexism, and Old Farts

I am not a punk. I am 35 years old, fervently attached to my marriage and my work, and better off materially than I could have wished or imagined in 1970. But someone once flattered me (inordinately) by writing that I seemed classless and almost ageless, and my excitement over this music no doubt connects with the fact that I can create such an impression. Conversely, much of the resistance avant-punk inspires, although expressed in careful musical or sociological formulations, has an ad hominem dimension of age or class. About music I could go on forever, and about age there isn’t much to say — perhaps having to keep up with a couple of kids will eventually dispel my feeling that rushes of musical adrenalin are good for the system, but I doubt it. The sociological misgivings of the anti-punks, on the other hand, seem to me quite substantial.

In a world where lib-rad goody-goodies compare rock concerts to Nuremberg rallies and dismiss all electric guitarists as phallic narcissists, it’s not hard to understand why so many bright young avant-punk musicians and fans consider abstractions like “fascism” and “sexism” squarer than love beads. Not that such terms can’t refer to anything real. But they’ve turned into scarewords, deployed by comfortable hypocrites who pretend that to name a manifestation of horror is a meaningful way to control it. Nevertheless, I don’t buy the (always unstated) defense of fascism and sexism as they manifest themselves in avant-punk. This isn’t merely another ironic confrontation with brutal facts that are prettied up and exploited by mainstream hard rock. For one thing, whether such horrors are disarmed by aesthetic means is even more iffy than it is in the case of mechanical cacophony or adolescent aggression. Worse still, for American-style punks even to admit that disarmament is their purpose — if indeed it is — is to violate their own ironic strategies, while for the English to abandon their straightforwardness in such contexts, as they sometimes do — or claim to — is at best a questionable tactic.

Avant-punks’s vaguely Nazisymp reputation seemed mostly a matter of aura until recently. Given the disciplined brutality of the basic style and the S&M flirtations of first Lou Reed and then Iggy (both sometimes sojourners in Berlin), those who get nervous whenever 500 people chant in time were sure to see the worst in David Johansen’s goosesteps or Brother J.C. Crawford’s exhortations to kick out the jams. The rest of us, however — especially those who believe that sometimes collective violence worked for good — were not obliged to agree. But then the Dictators, counted by some as another seminal avant-punk band, made this aura their central “joke,” to the point where songwriter Adny Shernoff placed a racist remark (about Puerto Ricans) in an early issue of Punk. And then came the Ramones, with three songs referring to Germany on their first album; an especially charming couplet, “I’m Nazi schatze/Y’know I fight for the fatherland,” highlighted their climactic “Today Your Love, Tomorrow the World,” which regularly moved a few aspiring punks to heil-Hitler salutes. In England, where the Ramones have been so influential, swastikas are even more popular among punks than they are here; to middle-class people who have confidence in such formulations, the English punks, with their defiant lumpen nihilism, might well recall “the growing masses outside all class strata” described by Hannah Arendt as “natural prey to Fascist movements.” So it’s no surprise that an English band, the Cortinas, has released a single called “Fascist Dictator,” the boastful momentum of which recalls the Stones’ “I’m a King Bee” done double-time: “I’m a fascist dictator/That’s what I am/I’m a fascist dictator/Ain’t like no other man.”

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None of this looks very good, but none of it is as bad as it looks. If anything, the new punk is consciously anti-fascist, which is a step up from the apathy and complacency of most rock and roll. Unless you think the Ramones identify with Charlie Manson, the Texas chain-saw killer, CIA men, SLAers, geeks, glue-sniffers, and electroshock patients — an absurd misreading as far as I’m concerned — then you must conclude that their intention is satiric, and the same applies when they turn to fascist characters. Meanwhile, England, unlike the U.S., faces a clear, self-identified fascist threat, the National Front, which most punks take the trouble to oppose explicitly; when Johnny Rotten calls Queen Elizabeth’s government “a fascist regime” it’s fair to assume he wants no part of it. Even the Cortinas’ song works as a Ramones-style irony.

The problem is that irony is wasted on pinheads. The Cortinas’ protagonist is like no other man for two reasons — he’s a fascist dictator and he gets no pleasure from love. Even if the Cortinas do intend an invidious equation, each side of which devalues the other, those of their fans who get no pleasure from love — victimized by one of the brutal modern facts that made punk necessary — may not see it that way. They may conclude that if the loss of pleasure is their fate, they might as well, in the classic fascist pattern, seek power instead. Considering how many hippies ended up in authoritarian religious movements when they discovered that enlightenment did not solve their problems, it seems likely that a few of those saluting Ramones fans will undergo a comparable political life-change when they discover the limits of energy. Beyond the liberal-baiting, beyond the image of horror, avant-punk is forebodingly ambivalent here, with a complexity barely suggested by this one stanza of Iggy Pop’s “China Girl”: “My Little China Girl/You shouldn’t mess with me/I’ll ruin everything you are/I’ll give you television/I’ll give you eyes of blue/I’ll give you men who want to rule the world.”

The parallel issue of sexism, implicit in the roots of rock and roll, is even knottier; but here, too, the evidence is mixed. In New York, the two most prestigious bands, Television and Talking Heads, avoid both macho and wimp and are notably unantagonistic toward women. Ironic strategies abound, especially from the Ramones and Blondie, who puts on her bombshell image so convincingly that she’s turned into a rockmag pinup (how do you jerk off ironically?), and whose theme song rips “Miss Groupie Supreme” to shreds. In England, the Sex Pistols and the Clash direct their underclass rage, so often deflected toward women in rock and roll, right where it belongs, at the rich and powerful, and social-problem clichés are invoked much more often than women-problem clichés. But irony is double-edged, and the mechanical, pleasureless, hostile sexuality projected by names like Vibrators, Sex Pistols, and (get this one) Buzzcocks is, once again, more than liberal-baiting. The avant-punk scene is certainly no better place for women than any other rock scene and in crucial instances it’s worse.

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“Some day I’m gonna smash your face,” barks 27-year-old ex-schoolteacher Hugh Cornwell of the (talkin’ ’bout the Boston) Stranglers in his first words to an American audience, and he’s echoed by young short and whiny Stiv Bators of the Dead Boys: “Don’t look at me that way bitch/Your face is gonna get a punch.” I am assured that such metatheatre, the candor of which is new to rock and roll, merely desublimates an adolescent fantasy that has always fed into the music’s aggressive sexuality, and is directed solely at the kind of fucked-up female — vain and slavish, sucking after any connection to power, and (to quote Bators) “born with dishpan hands” — who afflicts the scene. Only I don’t believe the fantasy to be adolescent — gender, not age, is what’s relevant — and I wonder (rhetorically) why more putdown songs aren’t devoted to fucked-up male hangers-on. I do make a distinction between the Stranglers, posers with the gall to claim their misogyny constitutes a positive political protest, and the altogether more desperate and vulnerable — hence revelatory — Dead Boys. But I don’t want to listen to either. I got loads of hostilities, but my need to beat up women is repressed, and I hope it stays that way. It’d be some world if we all went around killing our fathers.

If it appears that I’m confusing art with morality, or with life, well, I didn’t start it. This is the Stranglers and the Dead Boys I’m talking about, not Oedipus Rex or Céline or, for that matter, the Rolling Stones, and if the confusion of art with life is common on a scene which becomes ever more unsophisticated as it expands, that’s at least partly the fault of the second-rate artists who are being misunderstood. Desublimation my ass. Tales of affectless protopunks in jail for beating on their girlfriends (how do you punch someone ironically?), or of the varieties of consensual stoopidity, remind me that the only reason no woman was ever seduced — or raped — by a book is that books don’t have penises. Art is only art, but it can really damage people anyway. Avant-punk sexism not only repels those smart, unmasochistic women who don’t choose to cultivate the cool that plugging safely into the scene requires, it also has the effect of encouraging less savvy and independent women to fulfill its prophecy. And while it may be true that the only way to defuse certain fantasies and forbidden ideas is to bring them into the open, it’s dishonest to pretend that such idealistic motives — or such ideal results — are usually present here.

So it isn’t just goody-goodies and old farts who stay away from CBGB. All good rock and roll risks fascism simply by generating mass energy, and much of it flirts with sexism simply by exploring the music’s traditional subject matter. Sometimes the risks are worth it, sometimes they aren’t. It’s not enough to argue that the Dead Boys pervert the Ramones — not when the Ramones’ deadpan invited the perversion. I love the Ramones myself. I think the settled over-25s (and sensitive under-25s) who equate the Ramones with the Dead Boys are wrong. But their mistake is at least as understandable as the mistake of bright young avant-punks who think abstractions like “fascism” and “sexism” are squarer than love beads.

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4. The Next Medium Thing

It really is different this time, because the music will be there. Over the next six months, Americans will have a chance to purchase albums by dozens of artists who spit at the conventional wisdom of the record industry, or seem to. Many of them will reflect signings made possible by the most recent punk explosion, and almost all will share with punk its paucity of sophisticated production techniques, such as chords. But not all of them will qualify as avant-punk. England’s Elvis Costello is more pub; Boston’s Loco Alexander is basically an eccentric white r&b stylist; the lead singer of New York’s Shirts has a big part in Hair; Los Angeles’s Runaways are punky female Monkees created by a record producer. And even bands that clearly are in the style hedge their bets. The first two British albums in the U.S. sweepstakes, by the Jam and the Stranglers, were accompanied by press material making it clear that these boys were really “new wave,” not that nasty old punk.

In other words, the record industry is playing it both ways. Not many music execs like the stuff, which is designed to blast away every “artistic” standard they hold dear. But unlike the actual standard-bearers — established rock musicians like those who reportedly put together a protest petition when English A&M briefly signed the Sex Pistols — the executives don’t feel threatened where they live. If it makes noise, they’re set up to make money off it. Many of them sense that Johnny Rotten is something special, perhaps unprecedented, and all of them have heard that the two giants, Warners and CBS, are vying for him. They’re also aware that Warners has picked up the American punk company, Sire, from ABC, and that CBS has been dealing with Britain’s pub-to-punk Stiff label and is preparing a major push with the Vibrators. Still, they have their own tastes and truisms. They know that the Sire catalogue also includes Renaissance and old Fleetwood Mac, that Stiff means an in with Graham Parker, that English phenoms like T. Rex and Slade have fizzled here. They know the radio stations and their own distribution networks are filled with the kind of tasteful rock fans who are outraged by punk. And they know — or think they know — that the rock audience is as put off by the rough, the extreme, and the unfamiliar as they are.

This rock audience is the one the execs created — more passive and cautious than that of a decade ago not just because kids have changed, although they have, but because it is now dominated statistically by different, and more passive, kids. My first assumption about punk is that it will attract new blood to rock and roll, and my first question is whether a transfusion is possible. Will the marginal fans of boogie and heavy metal decide they’re tired of all that calculated spontaneity and putative self-expression? Will they turn from those big, thick cushions of loudness and decorative licks of musicianship? Will something real be forged from the surviving dogmas of teen rebellion? Or will punk artists who only appear to spit at the conventional wisdom of the industry sneak between instant oblivion and world takeover?

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The prime contenders for such compromised punk superstardom are the Stranglers and the Dead Boys, either of whom could convert to modishly bombed-out heavy metal inside of two months, and the Rods a/k/a Eddie and the Hot Rods, basically a double-time boogie band. In America, any grander artistic hopes must rest with those hard-working heroes of concept punk, the Ramones, who have charted a single and attracted the biggest booking agent in rock, both inconceivable feats a year ago. Among the English bands the fate of the Sex Pistols is crucial; Johnny Rotten looks like a rock star who could matter, and he might ease things for the Jam and the Vibrators, both pop-based, hook-prone hard rock bands of a sort that has proved too tough for comfort before, and even for the Clash, so crude and unpretty that they qualify as protest music in every sense of the word. Rotten is so special, though, that his commercial impact might have negative musical effects — so far, he’s found truth in the kind of overstated self-dramatization that has killed so much rock and roll, but I don’t look forward to his imitators. That’s why I’m rooting for the Ramones — they suggest a way out of his expressionistic cul-de-sac, just as Rotten suggests a way out of their formalistic one, and the syntheses could be stunning, as Television, Patti Smith, and Talking Heads have already demonstrated.

By experimenting with certain implicit imperatives of rock and roll, punk cleans out the ears. It’s one thing to theorize that most of what is called hard rock these days is really a species of MOR, another to recoil at the goo of Foreigner after scouring yourself with the Clash for a week. It’s one thing to know that great stylists are born of the sort of naive audacity that’s unhampered by technical preconceptions, another to hear Tom Verlaine turn into a great rock guitarist who owes almost nothing to blues beyond bent notes. It’s one thing to believe that music need not swing to activate, another to pogo up and down to the Clash while some Italian Communist who likes Pink Floyd — a combination that would ordinarily seem wondrous — complains about “the rhythm of death.” I mean, this music definitely decreases your tolerance for sentimentality.

Sentimentality has its uses, of course. Basically, it is sentimentality that enables us to believe in things, to get through life, and because these are artists who don’t yet believe in very much, I worry about how they and their audience are going to manage. Think of it — they don’t even claim to believe in rock and roll. Yet that too I find cleansing, because the music business has transformed believing in rock and roll into the most odious sentimentality of all. Rock and roll isn’t something you believe in, in that onanistic, self-reflexive way that has vitiated so much modernist art. It is something you do to get somewhere else, until the doing becomes a kind of belief in itself. That, after all, is the avant-punk attitude, and at this pregnant moment it seems at least possible that these rock and rollers won’t end up where they began.

***

This and other classic Voice stories can also be be found on Robert Christgau’s site. His most recent book, Is It Still Good to Ya? Fifty Years of Rock Criticism, 1967–2017, was published last year.

 

Categories
CULTURE ARCHIVES From The Archives MUSIC ARCHIVES

Punk ’77: The Politics of Punk

Beyond the Dole Queue

A couple of months ago I went to a festival in London organized by Music for Socialism. Music for Socialism is a group of musicians and writers who came together “to explore the connections between socialist politics and their personal involvement with music,” and the point of the festival was to make such exploration public. An elaborate program of concerts and workshops was arranged; there were performances in every style of folk and rock and avant-garde and speakers from every style of Marxist and libertarian and sexual politics. We were all set for a weekend of sophisticated debate: What is the relationship of revolutionary form and revolutionary content? What is the correct political position of the artist? How should we handle the forces of the music business, the contradictions of popular consciousness?

I still can’t answer any of these questions and the meeting didn’t turn out like that at all. Discussion was crude, repetitive, and dominated by one subject: the politics of punk. The recurrent question was a simple one — is punk “the most reactionary fascist trend in popular culture today?” — and the recurrent answer was simple, too: Yes. The punks were denounced by Cornelius Cardew, haut-bourgeois avant-garde composer turned Maoist member of Peoples Liberation Music, and PLM had no doubts at all. Hesitant objections were curtly dismissed. The Clash? No need even to listen to their songs — just look at the LP: issued by CBS, an international monopoly capitalist concern, and featuring on the front sleeve a Union Jack, symbol of imperialism, and on the back a photo of policemen charging, propaganda for the state forces.

Confronted by such sublime certainties, I retreated to my record player, but this has not been the only political response to punk nor even the crudest one. Other political groups have been indulging in an opposite opportunism. The Young Communist League issues scrawled punk newsletters in which the obligatory Sex Pistols quotes are interspersed with their own aphorisms — “Reading the Morning Star forms an essential part of my daily life” — ­and the Socialist Workers Party uses Rock Against Racism (originally formed in response to Eric Clapton’s burgling) to issue its own punk paper, Temporary Hoard­ing, in which Johnny Rotten emerges, after some neat flicks of interviewing technique, as a vanguard of work­ing-class struggle.

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So far the punks themselves have remained uninterested in these struggles for their political souls. Gene October, writer of the Chelsea single, “Right To Work,” an SWP recruiting slogan, comments on the song this way: “The right to work fucks the unions, I say: ‘Your father works on this dock/You work on this dock/If you don’t sign with fucking union/You don’t get the job.’ ” But, on the other hand, the punks have been equally unimpressed by the National Front. In the words of Sniffin’ Glue, the original and authentic punk paper: “The Evenin’ News says the Front are manipulatin’ the new wave. I don’t need to say what bollocks that is. Some cruds say, the NF in power would shake people out of their apathy. Well, cruds, how would you express this newfound anger? It ain’t only the blacks who’ll be shut up. So a big Fuckoff to NF, Lablibcon, Commies, Socialists fuckin’ Workers, the head in the sand brigade, the lot.”

Such cheery and old-fashioned rock ’n’ roll know-no­thingism may be bad news for membership secretaries but, luckily for us, the politics of punk is not a matter of individual intention and allegiance. What is at issue is an ideology, and what this sectarian activity really reveals is that punk has reopened all those ’60s questions about rock ’n’ revolution — questions that haven’t been resolved by the slick styles of ’70s professionalism but merely shelved. Maybe this time we’ll be able to come to some conclusions about the radical possibilities of popular culture.

We must start with the contradiction: Punk is neither a direct, spontaneous expression of youth experience (as the SWP would like to think) nor the simple result of media manipulation (as PLM argues). It is the result of the interplay of both processes and it is that interplay that we have to understand. Punk musicians, like any others, make their music with reference not just to their own individual or class experiences, but also to existing ideas about the meaning and purpose and potential of rock. Punk is, in its turn, seized on by the music business and given commer­cial meanings and interpretations which filter back to the musicians.

Now, after two years or so of hectic activity, three strands are apparent in British punk ideology. At its core is a musical argument: Punk is, formally, rock ’n’ roll — it is technically simple, constructed around a plain hard beat, the source of uncomplicated and immediate pleasure. This is the argument that links British and American punk and gives the Ramones, for example, their transatlantic significance.

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In Britain itself, the origins of punk rock ’n’ roll can be found in pub-rock, which provided the aesthetic, the setting, the self-confidence, and the musicians from whom punk eventually emerged. Transitional groups like the 101ers or the London SS are now enshrined in punk myth, but the pub/punk continuity is most clearly symbolized by Stiff Records, owned and staffed by old pub-rockers, and a source of ideas and opportunities for new punk-rockers. Stiff’s pioneering new wave band was the Damned, and an old-fashioned group they are too, dedicated, like their label, to making money and having a good time.

The politics of punk rock ’n’ roll, from the Ramones to the Damned, derive from a vague teenage consciousness and are confined to the lethal needling of the adult establishment — such stylistic outrage is expressed by names like the Damned’s Rat Scabies, and records like the Adverts’ “Gary Gilmore’s Eyes.” But all that’s going on here is teenage rock ’n’ roll — new musicians, new audi­ences, but the same old motives and excitement and musical conventions. The resulting records are fresh, energetic, invigorating, and at the moment I’d rather listen to a good punk rock ’n’ roll band like the Jam or the Boomtown Rats than to either the old or new work of their original models, the Who and the Stones. But I’m still listening for the old reason — to feel good.

The second strand in the ideology of punk is a critique of the music business which develops directly from the rock ’n’ roll conventions: the reason why teenage music must be remade is because all the original rock ’n’ rollers have become boring old farts, imprisoned by the routines of showbiz, by the distant calculations of profit-making, by delusions of rock as art and bourgeois commodity. From this perspective the return to rock ’n’ roll roots is, in itself, a radical rejection of record company habits and punk’s musical simplicity is a political statement. The ide­ology of the garage band is an attack on the star system. Punk attitudes toward the music business are derived, ironically enough, from 1960s counterculture. The most articulate exponents of the punk critique are, in fact, old hippies like Caroline Coon, Melody Maker’s punk spokeswoman, and the fortunes of, say, the Sex Pistols are guided behind the scenes by an older generation of rock radicals. The resulting suspicions of big capitalist con­cerns, of musical bureaucrats, of radio programmers, are familiar to anyone who can remember how down hippie bands like the Dead or the Airplane once were on the business. So are the ever-hopeful declarations of indepen­dence, the constant denunciations of sellout, the unfulfilled promises of “a new way of doing things.”

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What’s really new is the integration of these countercul­tural arguments into the teenage consciousness of rock ’n’ roll — record companies are denounced for precisely the practices they developed the last time this battle was fought. Rock and showbiz are now the same thing — for these young punks rock institutions like Rolling Stone or Clive Davis or FM radio or Bill Graham are obviously and profoundly irrelevant. Screw the revolution! The point is made by a succession of earnestly angry (and engrossing) punk groups — my current favorites are the Boys. It is captured in the title of Generation X’s reply to Pete Townshend, “Your Generation.”

My own response to these punks is a mixture of grudging admiration and affectionate skepticism: So, okay, how are you gonna protect your rock ’n’ roll integrity? How are you going to stop your records, your successes, your messages from becoming just more commodities in a well-oiled market? And what is surprising and exhilarating and heartening is that the punks, some of them, have an answer. It comes most powerfully and most ambiguously from the Sex Pistols, but it comes most clearly from the Clash, always the pushiest new wavers. Their new single, “Complete Control,” is an attack on their own record company, CBS, and when at the end Joe Strummer screams “We’re gonna take control — and that means you!”, the you refers to the audience. How this alliance is effected remains unclear, but at least Strummer seems to understand that the old peace-and-love bullshit won’t work, and this is a step in the direction of realism.

The third strand of British punk ideology is a class-based consciousness that music-biz corruption is not just an abstract effect of the market but is of a piece with other forms of class domination and exploitation: the tax exiles are not just aesthetically irrelevant — with their Hollywood hideouts, their accumulations of wealth, they’ve also become the enemy.

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It is from this perspective that punk can be heard as the music of the “dole queue kids.” The coincidence of the rise of punk with the highest and most persistent rate of youth unemployment Britain has ever known has been drama­tized by music journalists (even the “Punk! Shock! Horror!” of the popular press includes unemployment as one of the horrors) and for a dedicated social group like the Clash the connection is axiomatic. Their angriest songs­ — “Career Opportunities,” “White Riot,” “London’s Burn­ing” — are explicit about the connection of teenage/rock ’n’ roll/dole queue consciousness.

But though Clash records are politically admirable, their simple identification of punk and the dole queue is, in the end, misleading. Punk class consciousness is one aspect of a complex and contradictory ideology; the Clash and the Pistols are professional musicians, not dole queue kids, and they lost whatever folk authenticity they had the moment they decided, for whatever reasons, to sign recording contracts and to make music for a mass audience. To tell the truth, I don’t really believe that most punk musicians ever were dole queue kids — they come from the ambitious, art-school, individualist stratum that has always provided Britain with its rock stars. (In the post today I got the debut single of Arista’s first punk signing, the Secret, whose publicity even boasts of the presence of the slumming son of a Tory M.P.) The Clash and the Pistols have established social realism as an essential part of punk ideology but this does not make their music the “direct expression of the contemporary working class.” The punk attitude to the dole is really that of Johnny Rotten: “Music’s a relief from all that. It’s not about going and being miserable because you’re on the dole. I know it’s tough on the dole but it’s not that bad. When I was on it, I was getting paid for doing nothing. I thought it was fucking great. Fuck up the system the best way.…”

Paradoxical as it may seem, it is precisely because punk rock is not the folk expression of some countercultural group that I am hopeful. The politics of punk don’t rest on the social backgrounds of individual performers but on the power of their music as popular culture; hippie history is not about to repeat itself, this time as farce. Punk is a moment not of radical rock but of teenage pop and it is in this context that the significance of the dole queue becomes clear. If rock ’n’ roll has always been the music of teenage frustration, desires in the past have been thwarted by conventions rather than by resources. Rock, as youth culture and as bohemianism, has been affluent music and even Britain’s most obviously proletarian pop — Slade, late Mott the Hoople — was an expression of collective pride, fun, self-confidence, good humor.

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Punk is tapping a different mood altogether — self-dis­gust, boredom, doubt, anger. Today’s teenage frustration is caused not by fuddy-duddy parents, not by easily shocked adults, but by an intractable economic situation, by a society in which everyone talks a lot about the plight of youth but no one does anything. This isn’t an ideology, it is a mood, but it’s the mood that the punk rockers draw on for their power and shape with their art. It’s a mood, too, that’s full of contradiction — hence all the political sects buzzing about it — and punk musicians, willy-nilly, have to interpret it for themselves. So far honors are about even: an old-fashioned misogynist group like the Damned is answered by the gay and aggressive Tom Robinson Band; orthodox careerists like the Jam are answered with the wild and woolly Sham 69. If for nothing else, all the punks can be proud of their contemptuous assault on the racism the National Front is trying to pass, with increasing hysteria, down the dole queues.

The point of all this is, I think, that cultural politics are about situation and not intention; rock takes its meaning from its conditions of production and consumption, not from the artistic souls of its creators. This point was obscured in the 1960s by the embourgeoisement of rock ’n’ roll. For the last decade, politics has been equated with poetry although, in fact, the only politically significant rock group, the Czech band, Plastic People, is important precisely because its music does not arise from the artistic conditions of Western capitalism. The truth is that rock ’n’ roll’s political potential comes from its collective form, not from its individual expression, and this is my final point. One of the themes that was due for discussion at that Music for Socialism Festival was an old one: To make revolu­tionary music, must we revolutionize musical language? Is avant-garde the only radical art?

The punk answer is yes, but not in the formalistic, self-indulgent sense that revolutionary artists usually mean. Punk is an avant-garde language from both sides, audience as well as artists — if you don’t believe me, listen to the free-form noise of the Live at the Roxy LP. Of course, British punk fans were prepared for this by disco and reggae experimentation — but that is another story.

Categories
CULTURE ARCHIVES From The Archives MUSIC ARCHIVES Pazz & Jop

1981 Pazz & Jop: The Year the Rolling Stones Lost the Pennant

Early in November, as disconsolate as most of my colleagues about the run of rock and roll in 1981, I disclosed the results of the eighth or ninth Pazz & Jop Critics’ Poll to anybody who happened by my desk. “Tattoo You in a landslide,” I announced, looking over the fatal piece of graph paper in my mind’s eye as I shook the writer’s cramp out of my mind’s hand. “No other consensus is possible. New wave, punk, whatever you want to call it, is in complete disarray. Sandinista!s a mess, Trust is underrated, nobody likes Flowers of Romance. The only record I’ve played a lot myself is Wild Gift —except for my rap records, I mean — but X will never go over at the dailies. Anyway, Tattoo You has hooks, not like Emotional Rescue or something. And this is the most reactionary year in the history of rock and roll. The Kinks, J. Geils, Rod Stewart, all those guys put out good product again. None of it means shit, of course, but at least they’re paying attention to craft, writing songs you can remember five minutes later. When the votes start coming in from the Midwest it’s gonna be old school tie — world’s greatest rock and roll band rakka-rakka-rakka. They can’t miss.”

This news occasioned considerable dismay at the Voice offices. Were we going to put them on the cover after resisting the greatest media blitz since Wendell Wilkie like the cool guys we are? No way. Space for the poll was cut and the awards gala canceled. When Poobah Tom Carson and I got around to mailing out the actual ballots, we were lackadaisical, making only token efforts to update addresses and find new names.

But soon things got strange. Reviewing the year’s albums, I found that my top 10 pool was expanding from a scant half dozen to the usual lucky 13 or so. Records I’d admired and then put away, like Red and Solid Gold, kept sounding better, as did former in-a-good-year-this-would-be-top-20 candidates like Wha’ppen? and Talk Talk Talk. David Byrne and Human Switchboard were just beginning to sink in, and it wasn’t until January that a late mailing from Englewood introduced me to a great 1981 album. I didn’t expect Greatest Rap Hits Vol. 2 to sweep past Rickie Lee Jones and U2 in the hearts of the electorate (well, maybe U2), but it sure made it less awkward for me to divide my points — 19 or 20 of them could now go in one place. At the same time my list of also-rans got longer and longer — counting five or six imports and a couple of cassettes, I’d have 60 A and A minus long players by poll time, a new record. Then, as the early ballots came in, a quick tally confirmed the strangest turn of all: Elvis Costello was leading the Stones two-to-one.

Well, whew — we hadn’t been scooped by People, Rolling Stone, and the Soho News after all. But once I’d chastised myself for selling my own poll short I began to wonder where my story was. How would I dispose of the contumely I’d been storing up for Paul Slansky, Jann Wenner, and Geraldo Rivera, or justify reprinting the wonderful Greil Marcus parody in which Mick denies that the Stones have “something new” planned for their 1981 tour (“We’re going to do the same thing we’ve always done. And then we’re going to do it again. Forever.”)? Instead I was stuck with good ole Elvis C., critics’ darling and hepster’s cherce. Trust was indeed the best E.C. since his poll-topping This Year’s Model in 1978, but how was this latest triumph of the new wave going to look? Pretty predictable, right?

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But not as predictable, I realize in irrefutable retrospect, as the actual winner: the Clash’s sprawling, flawed, reached-but-not-grasped three-record set Sandinista!, all but one point of its modest margin provided by the votes it received as an import in 1980, when the grand, fine-tuned, consolidated-if-not-synthesized two-record set London Calling proved the most overwhelming lollapalooza in P&J history. Somewhat more surprising was the runner-up: X’s Wild Gift, with votes from daily reviewers in En Why and El Lay and Boston and Dayton and Detroit and Minneapolis too, as well as from 50 or so of the counterculture pros, hobbyists, freelancers, and semiemployed lowlifes who dominate rock criticism as they always have. Trust finished a very close third, with more mentions than Sandinista! or Wild Gift (and precisely as many as last year’s fourth-ranked Pretenders). Although first-half ballots indicated that the Stones would trail Prince and Rick James (both of whom were on the world’s greatest etc.’s tween-set tape at the Garden and one of whom was beset with catcalls when he opened for the world’s etc. in Los Angeles), Tattoo You finished a firm fourth, followed by Rickie Lee Jones’s Pirates (which I’ll try not to mention again), East Side Story by Squeeze (a dubious band which came into its indubitable own), Dreamtime by Tom Verlaine (hipster’s choice), Controversy by Prince (who I bet got some votes people wish they’d given [1980]’s ninth-ranked Dirty Mind, which finished 43rd this year but didn’t qualify as “late-breaking” the way Michael Jackson’s Off the Wall did last time), Rick James’s Street Songs (grass-roots album of the year), and the Go-Go’s Beauty and the Beat (lightweight-and-proud album of the year).

Before I explain how I’ve always known Sandinista! would win, however, I must explore in some detail the common observation that, as Kristine McKenna of Los Angeles put it, “It was a LOUSY year for albums. I only felt strongly about two that came out this year. An amazing year for singles — easily came up with a list of 30 that totally killed me.” After several months of pondering this notion and its many equivalents, I’ve decided that I don’t agree. It was a great year for albums. But most critics who offered their comments said something similar, and this year’s general enthusiasm for the singles voting (initiated in 1979) proved that they meant it.

For the new poll we divided the singles category in two to reflect the proliferation of EPs — extended-play collections of three to eight songs that list at between $3 (for seven-inchers) and $6 (what the majors charge for 12-inch 15-to-20-minute “mini-albums”). I don’t trust EPs, especially as marketed by the bigs, who are not above duplicating/remixing forthcoming album cuts or played-out singles in their pursuit of the cute little new-wave buck; on a cost-per-minute basis, EPs don’t give value like a good LP. But they’re the ideal way for an undercapitalized company to get music out there, and most local bands don’t have an album’s worth of material anyhow. The winner was the Specials’ “Ghost Town,” an augury of Britain’s anti-police riots, which was all over the radio when Punjabis and 4 Skins inaugurated the hostilities last July; it came out here in an eerie remix that got 20 votes as a single, but since 24 voters liked the B-side (“Why?”/”Friday Night Saturday Morning”) enough to put the three-song disc on their EP lists, that’s how we slotted it.

The industry still classifies the Specials’ label as an independent, but I call Chrysalis a major. Running a surprisingly strong second, though, was Never Say Never, by 415 Records’ Romeo Void, a San Francisco band whose It’s a Condition finished 17th among the LPs. (I suspect people of voting strictly for the title cut, an outburst of metasexual venom that’s induced me to stand around the Ritz with my coat on, but I’ve never connected with the album, so what do I know?) And of the remaining nine finishers, only Lene Lovich and the Pretenders (whose follow-up album came in a dismal 87th) cracked an indie-dominated field. It’s no surprise to see three bands from New York — 99’s ESG, American Clave’s DNA (Ar-to! Ar-to!), Lust/Unlust’s Individuals — and three from Boston — Ace of Hearts’s Lyres and Mission of Burma, Shoo-Bop’s Peter Dayton — on the list. EPs speak to local loyalties, and Boston and New York are where the critics are. I just wonder what happened to L.A., source of three of my top 10, including the Descendents’ “Fat” E.P., which tied for 15th with seven votes, none of them from Los Angeles.

Which brings us to what’s supposed to be action central: the singles. In a way I do agree — I played my “street” (new code for black) 12-inches, especially my favorite rap records, more obsessively than anything to come my way since The Clash was an import. But not everybody sought the same action. Kristine McKenna was drawn to English dance music, Vince Aletti to some “street”-Brit synthesis. Despite the EP boom Ira Kaplan still got into lots of American independents; Tim Sommer concentrated on punk/oi/hardcore. Roger Glass listened mostly to black radio in Washington; Richard Riegel and the two daughters who helped him out on his list made do with AOR or A/C or AM or FM or whatever they’re calling unlistenable crap in Cincinnati these days, and with a little help from Laurie Anderson he got by.

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Laurie Anderson’s “O Superman,” one half of a dead heat for top single, was the pop event of the year — or rather, the other pop event of the year (what we counterculture pros call the alternative). Billed as an EP because its two sides run 8:12 and 5:55 (here at P&J we define as singles all discs comprising two songs, aural performances, or whatever), “O Superman” came out initially on One Ten, whose chief endeavor is an exhaustive new wave discography called Volume, and was already a phenomenon when John Peel and Rough Trade turned it into a British chart-smasher. After that Warners completed its pursuit of performance art’s pride and took the record over. A real new wave fairy tale, and stay tuned for the sequel. But novelty records either get you or they don’t, and though I’ll take Anderson’s paranoid whimsy over Napoleon XIV or Little Roger & the Goosebumps, it so happens that I prefer “Double Dutch Bus” and “Ode to Billie Joe.” In fact, I also prefer its other half. The Rolling Stones’ greatest anthem in over a decade, “Start Me Up” is truer and braver than the increasingly rhetorical “Jumping Jack Flash” or the increasingly self-serving “It’s Only Rock ’n Roll,” not to mention the increasingly racist “Brown Sugar.” But this is true not least because its central conceit — Mick as sex machine, complete with pushbutton — explains why the album it starts up never transcends hand-tooled excellence except when Sonny Rollins, uncredited, invades the Stones’ space. Though it’s as good in its way as “Street Fighting Man,” how much you care about it depends entirely on how much you care about the Stones’ technical difficulties. So I found myself rooting for “O Superman.” “Start Me Up” may have been the more compelling aural performance. But “O Superman” was the more compelling pop event of the year.

Needless to say, I started rooting only when convinced that “The Adventures of Grandmaster Flash on the Wheels of Steel” would be held to third (assuming it outlasted Kim Carnes’s pop event). “Wheels of Steel,” the skeptic’s (and aesthete’s) 12-inch, is a mix rather than a rap, segueing bits of Chic, Queen, Blondie, three Sugarhill productions, and what sounds like a Flash Gordon serial into an ur-novelty that struts rap’s will to reclaim and redefine popular culture. Though it finished 12 votes behind the leaders, it got four more votes than last year’s winner, “The Breaks,” a showing that typifies a year when more of the poll-topping singles could be heard on WBLS than WNEW, and in dance clubs than on the radio — a year when impecunious white journalists went out and bought Frankie Smith (tied for 12th) and the Funky Four Plus One (ninth) as if they imports, which in a sense I suppose they were.

For me, rap was only the tip of the joint. If the audacity of the new black dance music and its alternative (note term) economy didn’t reach far enough to constitute a genuine pop event, it certainly resembled one. That a dance hook from Tina Weymouth & Co. (sixth) inspired two rap covers is no less heartening than that Rockpool chose to work Taana Gardner (tied for 12th). Of course, the end of the year saw a new surge of Brit dance-synth whizzes like Pete Shelley and Soft Cell (tied for seventh); the new funk’s alternative economy is even less idealistic than others that have come and gone; and all this tentative critical crossover occurred in a year when there were often only two or three black singles in the national top 20, a shocking retrogression to 1954 that’s as much the fault of “progressive” radio (and journalism) as of Ronald Reagan. Nevertheless, barriers seem to be falling.

But as long as I’ve waited for those barriers to come down, my deepest musical pleasure this past year was the simple if time-consuming process of not missing any gooduns. This wasn’t just a matter of establishing quick contact with late releases from Black Flag and Bohannon and Al Green, of finally landing copies of Z. Z. Hill and the Penguin Cafe Orchestra, of listening too long to David Lindley and Swamp Dogg. It also involved reevaluating a lot of records I’d adjudged just-fine-thanks and then cramming into my shelves. And while Johnny Copeland dropped down toward the bottom of my list and Aretha Franklin sounded more confused than her best album in a decade warranted, most of this music showed unexpected depth. The second side of Red gripped me almost as hard as the first, and without a “Youth of Eglington” to grab hold; the teeth Shoes have added to their charming formula nipped at my cerebellum; I remembered almost every song on Sly & Robbie Present Taxi; I winced with renewed amazement at 1981’s most powerful music, the four songs that begin side two of Season of Glass. Never before have I sat down at the end of January with so many albums from the previous year so firmly imprinted in my head.

And so, to the lists:

First the EPs. Voters got to name five; I’m listing 10:

1. Descendents: “Fat” E.P. (New Alliance) 2. Gang of Four: Another Day/Another Dollar (Warner Bros.) 3. Angry Samoans: Inside My Brain (Bad Trip) 4. DNA: A Taste of DNA (American Clave) 5. Propeller Product (Propeller) 6. Panics: “I Wanna Kill My Mom”/”Best Band”/”Tie Me Up, Baby!” (Gulcher) 7. Bebe Buell: Covers Girl (Rhino) 8. Specials: “Ghost Town”/”Why?”/”Friday Night Saturday Morning” (Chrysalis) 9. Peter Dayton: Love at 1st Sight (Shoo-Bop) 10. Lyres: AHS-1005 (Ace of Hearts).

Then singles. I enjoyed 40 or 50, but only 25 totally killed me, with R.E.M. pending:

1. Funky Four Plus One: “That’s the Joint” (Sugarhill) 2. Taana Gardner: “Heartbeat” (West End) 3. T. S. Monk: “Bon Bon Vie” (Mirage) 4. “The Adventures of Grandmaster Flash on the Wheels of Steel” (Sugarhill) 5. Killing Joke: “Change” (Editions E.G. import) 6. Afrika Bambaataa/Zulu Nation/Cosmic Force: “Zulu Nation Throw Down” (Paul Winley) 7. Bits & Pieces: “Don’t Stop the Music” (Mango) 8. Medium Medium: “Hungry So Angry” (Cachalot) 9. Liliput: “Eisiger Wind” (Rough Trade import) 10. Black Flag: “Louie Louie” (Posh Boy)

11. The Treacherous Three: “The Body Rock” (Enjoy) 12. Scritti Politti: “The ‘Sweetest’ Girl” (Rough Trade) 13. Yoko Ono: “Walking on Thin Ice”/”It Happened” (Geffen) 14. Teena Marie: “Square Biz” (Gordy) 15. Frankie Smith: “Double Dutch Bus” (WMOT) 16. Depeche Mode: “New Life” (Mute import) 17. Pete Shelley: “Homosapien” (Genetic import) 18. Kim Carnes: “Bette Davis Eyes” (EMI) 19. Trickeration: “Rap, Bounce, Rockskate”/”Western Gangster Town” (Sounds of New York) 20. Rolling Stones: “Start Me Up” (Rolling Stones) 21. Spoonie Gee: “Spoonie Is Back” (Sugarhill) 22. Chron Gen: “Reality” (Step-Forward import) 23. Brother D. & Collective Effort: “How You Gonna Make the Black Nation Rise” (Clappers) 24. Denroy Morgan: “I’ll Do Anything for You” (Becket) 15. Luther Vandross: “Never Too Much” (Epic).

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And finally, the albums, all 60 of the gooduns I’ve found so far because I want to make a point:

1. Greatest Rap Hits Vol. 2 (Sugarhill) 19; 2. X: Wild Gift (Slash) 15; 3. Elvis Costello and the Attractions: Trust (Columbia) 13; 4. Sunny Ade: The Message (Sunny Alade import) 12; 5. English Beat: Wha’ppen? (Sire) 9; 6. David Byrne: Songs from the Broadway Production of “The Catherine Wheel” (Sire) 9; 7. Gang of Four: Solid Gold (Warner Bros.) 6; 8. Psychedelic Furs: Talk Talk Talk (Columbia) 6; 9. Human Switchboard: Who’s Landing in My Hangar? (Faulty Products) 6; 10. Tom Verlaine: Dreamtime (Warner Bros.) 5.

11. Black Uhuru: Red (Mango) 12. UB40: Present Arms (DEP International) 13. Robert Ashley: Perfect Lives (Private Parts): The Bar (Lovely) 14. Black Flag: Damaged (SST) 15. The “King” Kong Compilation (Mango) 16. Yoko Ono: Season of Glass (Geffen) 17. Funkadelic: The Electric Spanking of War Babies (Warner Bros.) 18. dB’s: Stands for Decibels (Albion import) 19. The Blasters (Slash) 20. Al Green: Higher Plane (Myrrh)

21. Red Crayola with Art & Language: Kangaroo? (Rough Trade) 22. The Clash: Sandinista! (Epic) 23. Gregory Isaacs: Best of Gregory Isaacs Volume 2 (GG) 24. Sly & Robbie Present Taxi (Mango) 25. Meredith Monk: Dolmen Music (ECM) 26. Joan Jett & the Blackhearts: Bad Reputation (Boardwalk) 27. Shoes: Tongue Twister (Elektra) 28. Ramones: Pleasant Dreams (Sire) 29. Let Them Eat Jelly-beans! (Virus import) 30. Penguin Cafe Orchestra (Editions E.G.)

31. Elvis Presley: This Is Elvis (RCA Victor) 32. Tom Tom Club (Sire) 33. Slave: Show Time (Cotillion) 34. Shannon Jackson & the Decoding Society: Nasty (Moers Music import) 35. C81 (Rough Trade/NME import cassette) 36. Teena Marie: It Must Be Magic (Gordy) 37. Kid Creole and the Coconuts: Fresh Fruit in Foreign Places (Sire/ZE) 38. Marvin Gaye: In Our Lifetime (Gordy) 39. James Blood Ulmer: Free Lancing (Columbia) 40. Lucinda: Happy Woman Blues (Folkways)

41. Aretha Franklin: Love All the Hurt Away (Arista) 42. Linx: Intuition (Chrysalis) 43. Rolling Stones: Tattoo You (Rolling Stones) 44. Z. Z. Hill: Down Home (Malaco) 45. Rick James: Street Songs (Gordy) 46. Sir Douglas Quintet: Border Wave (Takoma) 47. Squeeze: East Side Story (A&M) 48. David Johansen: Here Comes the Night (Blue Sky) 49. Earth, Wind & Fire: Raise! (Columbia) 50. Bohannon: Alive (Phase II)

51. Prince: Controversy (Warner Bros.) 52. Warren Zevon: Stand in the Fire (Asylum) 53. Mofungo: End of the World (unlabeled cassette) 54. Garland Jeffreys: Escape Artist (Epic) 55. John Anderson: 2 (Warner Bros.) 56. Johnny Copeland: Copeland Special (Rounder) 57. Muddy Waters: King Bee (Blue Sky) 58. Stampfel & Weber: Going Nowhere Fast (Rounder) 59. Smokey Robinson: Being with You (Tamla) 60. Basement 5: 1965-1980 (Antilles).

Somewhere hereabouts you will find Lester Bangs’s ballot, a rather less sanguine document which I’ve reprinted in toto because I think it’s inspired, provocative, funny, and dead wrong. I dissent with special emphasis, of course, from “the lie that anybody else finds it vital” etc., even though the prevailing critical mood is more or less (less, but with Lester that’s a given) as he describes it. Kit Rachlis, editor of the wonderful Boston Phoenix music section and a critic I value as much as I do Bangs, took it more temperately and from a different historical angle: “[This] is not to say that there haven’t been any good records — I have no trouble naming 30 — only to say that there’s not a great record in the bunch, no record so fierce and reckless and nimble that it will affect listeners just as strongly in five or 10 years as it does now.” Lester says nothing gets him off now as much as the music of the past did (and does); Kit says nothing gets him off as much as it should now because it won’t get him off (as much as it should) in the future. Both assume what has always been the underlying aim of rock criticism even more than of rock and roll: to transform the thrill-seeking impulses of adolescence into a workable aesthetic if not philosophy if not way of life.

If it sounds like I’m making fun, then I’m making fun of myself (good policy for rock critics even more than rock musicians). I certainly fell for punk, new wave, whatever you want to call it, the basic appeal of which (at least for critics) was the gift of eternal life, or at least the ancient promise of Danny & the Juniors: “Rock and roll is here to stay.” And now new wave is here to stay. But it’s been five years since punk failed to conquer America (or Britain either, truth be told). There are in fact a whole new bunch of punks out there, and we’ll be hearing from them (though I can’t say I find much demographic significance in Tim Sommer’s fierce prediction that “within weeks” the fans of Heart Attack, a moderately nifty Great Neck hardcore band, will “far outnumber” the critics supporting Grandmaster Flash and Prince, who got 44 and 30 mentions respectively). Meanwhile, what’s going on for the rest of us is a consolidation, and if we’re lucky a reaching out. By definition this isn’t a thrill-packed project, and its disappointments and uncertainties can be daunting. So Lester, an ace critic because he takes everything hard, is bitterly disappointed because “almost all current music is fraudulent” and “worthless” (and also because his friend Richard Hell, never a model of fortitude, hasn’t thought up a title for his unreleased album). And Kit, an ace editor because he puts everything in context, is downcast because no record released in 1981 has (will have) the impact and staying power of 1980’s Dirty Mind or 1979’s Into the Music (by Van Morrison, in case you forgot, which would be too bad) or 1978’s Pure Mania (by the unjustly neglected Vibrators, though for impact and staying power I’ll take Parallel Lines myself).

It’s plain as the light on your stereo that the voters went for Sandinista! to fend off such uncertainty and disappointment. Most critics I know, Kit included, love a lot of it (my January recommendation is “Rebel Waltz”), but find it frustrating to approach even one side at a time, much less as a whole. With 199 ballots counted this year and 201 last, it got only two-thirds the points of London Calling, averaging under 13 where London Calling was over 15. Yet there are those, Lester included, who much prefer it, for the incontrovertible reason that it takes risks — a whole side of dub, Tymon Dogg, Mikey Dread, the very size of the thing, even the title. And sometimes it gets away with them — who would have thought that the Clash could come up with a “street” record like “Magnificent Dance,” a triumph that consolidates, reaches out, and thrills all at once?

But in the end I remain unconverted. For political art I’ll take Red Crayola, more sophisticated if less soulful, or Gang of Four, ditto but with a more significant groove, or the (English) Beat, apparently the opposite but don’t bet against their smarts, or for that matter Al Green, pushing the same message as the former Robert Zimmerman and supposed new wavers U2 and making me like it. And for risks and what Lester calls vitality I’ll take the folks at Sugarhill, both the profiteers who’ve put together the funkiest house band since Stax-Volt and the aural graffiti artists who come in boasting and jiving as if the American dream retains its magic only in places like the South Bronx, where it’s been ravaged altogether. Talk about significant grooves — the most possessed punks never had more spirit or imagination, and here’s hoping (not necessarily expecting) that the rappers will grow in wisdom eventually. Still, I’d be hard put to claim that Greatest Rap Hits Vol. 2 is on a par with London Calling or Dirty Mind (though I’d rank it with Into the Music and Parallel Lines). It really wasn’t a year for instant greatness — it was a year for consolidation and reaching out.

Consolidations take time to sink in. Moondance and Layla, as far removed from Aftermath and Rubber Soul as we are from The Clash and Marquee Moon, didn’t reveal themselves immediately as great albums. Real good, sure; great, who knew? It took years — and it could happen again. No less than three of the Pazz & Jop top 11 — four if you count Dreamtime — confront a theme native to r&b and country music. You can’t call it marriage because there’s no sign that the couples who carp and coo through Who’s Landing in My Hangar? or flay and fuck through Wild Gift want to make it legal or permanent. But they don’t want to just split, either, and their best advice might well be found on Trust, Elvis C.’s most mature, musical, and morally assured album. He’d probably warn them not to seek so many thrills, and they’d probably nod yes and go after a few more in spite of themselves, because that’s rock and roll. Trust certainly lacks the punchy immediacy of This Year’s Model, but no one can measure its lasting impact. Real good, sure; great, who knows?

And if real good is where Trust (and my other sleeper, Wha’ppen?) should end up, so be it — I’ll still reach out. Popular music seems as fragmented as in the dog days of 1975 — nothing is certain, good records are nowhere and everywhere. But things have changed utterly. While major-label cutbacks continue, more discs are produced by more companies than ever before. Some of these new labels are staffed by laid-off bizzers who actually like music, more by novices who succumbed back when punk was failing to conquer America. All work with acts that in flusher times the biz would have taken a flier on. Their costs (and expectations) are so low that CBS’s flop looks like Impoverished’s smasheroo (when an indie album sells 10,000 copies it is said to “go vinyl”). And it is these labels that make the difference between dog days and cool nites.

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It’s become almost redundant to point out how few of our critics’ top 40 go gold — 14 last year, seven this. Among white artists, only the Stones, the Police, and — ’scuse me — Rickie Lee Jones qualify, with Tom Tom Club on the way, though in black music, where aesthetics and economics are still in some kind of alignment, Rick James, Prince, and Luther Vandross all have major hits. But the failure of many conglomerates and established “independents” to even crack the list is something new. Polygram, MCA, RCA, Arista, and Chrysalis all placed in 1980 and were shut out in 1981, with WEA (which includes Sire, Island, Geffen, Rolling Stones, and Asylum as well as Warner-Reprise) up slightly and Columbia/Epic down one. Meanwhile, independents — some traditional (Boardwalk), some major-affiliated (Mango and I.R.S., which distributes Faulty), some in one-off deals (ZE and EG), and some completely autonomous (Slash and 415) — scored 10 times, a gain of four, with imports up from two to four (including two by the dB’s, whose domestically unsigned status is the shame of New York). My own list of 60 includes 21 indies and six imports (three of them once again by American artists).

The flood of marginal product makes the boundaries of criticism vaguer. In the ’70s I used to try and hear everything, and in my way I still do, but no longer with even the theoretical expectation of success. There are still domestic ’81s I haven’t acquired (U. Utah Phillips, Lockwood & Shines, T.S.O.L., Circle Jerks), imports are completely impossible (don’t own Repercussions or The Mekons yet), and that’s only albums. Moreover, I’m on most mailing lists, which even at the majors is an accomplishment — free-lancers now buy or trade for at least half the records they like, and I’ll bet that most of the voters haven’t heard half the albums on my list. That’s what’s so remarkable about Rick James’s showing. Motown is notoriously stingy with review copies, and James isn’t a safe fave from the ’60s like Stevie or Smokey or Marvin Gaye. He’s cheap and he’s flashy and critics heard his album the way everybody else did — after buying it because they liked the singles on the radio. Another pop event, and more power to all concerned (except Motown’s publicity department).

But marginal capitalism obviously works to disseminate as well as to soften the collective focus. In fact, with everybody making their own shoestring records and undertaking their own shoestring tours, the concept of the local band has become cloudy if not totally overcast in just three years. The Blasters, 30th on the album list, won our competition with 14 votes, while X — who swept the category last year, whose album almost won this year, and whose label status is identical to the Blasters’ (though one hears Elektra is on the case) — only got four, three more than Ernest Tubb, Clifton Chenier, and Steve & Eydie. For the record, Glenn Branca’s seven votes made him the surprise New York winner (his album came in 51st), with the dB’s second at six and the Bongos, the Raybeats, DNA, and Grandmaster Flash tied at five. Mission of Burma, Romeo Void, the Suburbs, R.E.M., and Rank & File (former Dils now located in Austin) also impressed, and I’d like to hear D.C.’s Trouble Funk. Los Angeles’s Hornets Attack Victor Mature won the newly established Poly Styrene Best Name Award, with Phil ’n’ the Blanks (Chicago), Little Bears from Bangkok (Seattle), the Better Beatles (Lincoln, Nebraska), and the Fibonaccis (L.A.) close behind. But though in the past high-ranking locals have often ended up making good records, and though new American bands took a leap among the critics (from four up to 11) even whilst the new wave mainstream sucked up N.M.E. blather, I’m not confident that the process will continue forever. Localism means just that — rock and roll dialects don’t always translate, and when they do what is said can seem derivative or limited.

But to say music is derivative is not to say it lacks “vitality” or “authenticity,” and to say its impact is limited is not to say that it goes nowhere. The original winners of the 1981 Pazz & Jop Critics’ Poll have inspired a lot of loose talk this year about rock and roll as professional entertainment rather than insurrectionary culture. But almost no one asked why the soundtrack to this talk had so much more impact than comparable albums by such veteran professional entertainers as Muddy Waters and Doug Sahm — which was that the Rolling Stones used to pass themselves off as creators of insurrectionary culture, and very likely believed it, since it was true. Seekers after insurrectionary culture shouldn’t let professionalism get them down — it comes with the territory. At times when greatness fails to announce itself, they should hand up their John the Baptist costumes and get down to the job of figuring out which professionals have a bead on how to transform thrills into a way of life. It’s a problem that breaks into a hundred problems, and there are thousands of answers.

Selected Ballots

VINCE ALETTI (alphabetical): Laurie Anderson: “O Superman”/”Walk the Dog” (Warner Bros.); Blondie: “Rapture” (Chrysalis import); Bo Kool: “(Money) No Love” (Tania import); Clash: “Magnificent Dance” (Epic); Coati Mundi: “Me No Pop Eye” (Antilles/ZE); Funky Four Plus One: “That’s the Joint” (Sugarhill); Taana Gardner: “Heartbeat” (West End); the Quick: “Zulu” (Pavilion); Strikers: “Body Music” (Prelude); Tom Tom Club: “Genius of Love” (Sire).

TOM CARSON: X: Wild Gift (Slash) 15; Human Switchboard: Who’s Landing in My Hangar? (Faulty Products) 15; Rick James: Street Songs (Gordy) 15; Stampfel & Weber: Going Nowhere Fast (Rounder) 15; Black Flag: Damaged (SST) 15; The Swimming Pool Q’s (DB) 5; David Johansen: Here Comes the Night (Blue Sky) 5; Suburbs: Credit in Heaven (Twin/Tone) 5; English Beat: Wha’ppen? (Sire) 5; Pretenders II (Sire) 5.

TOM CARSON: Yoko Ono: Walking on Thin Ice — For John (Geffen); Romeo Void: Never Say Never (415); Descendents: “Fat” E.P. (New Alliance); Propeller Product (Propeller); Angry Samoans: Inside My Brain (Bad Trip).

TOM CARSON: R.E.M.: “Radio Free Europe”/”Sitting Still” (Hib-Tone); “The Adventures of Grandmaster Flash on the Wheels of Steel” (Sugarhill); Funky Four Plus One: “That’s the Joint” (Sugarhill); Rick James: “Super Freak” (Gordy); Babylon Dance Band: “When I’m Home”/”Remains of the Beat” (Babylon Dance Band); Bob Dylan: “The Groom’s Still Waiting at the Altar” (Columbia); Frankie Smith: “Double Dutch Bus” (WMOT); Go-Go’s: “Our Lips Are Sealed” (I.R.S.); Replacements: “I’m in Trouble”/”If Only You Were Lonely” (Twin/Tone); Billy Idol with Gen X: “Dancing with Myself” (Chrysalis).

DEBRA RAE COHEN: X: Wild Gift (Slash) 25; dB’s: Stands for Decibels (Albion import) 20; Tom Verlaine: Dreamtime (Warner Bros.) 15; David Byrne: Songs from the Broadway Production of “The Catherine Wheel” (Sire) 10; Rolling Stones: Tattoo You (Rolling Stones) 5; Elvis Costello and the Attractions: Trust (Columbia) 5; Black Uhuru: Red (Mango) 5; Neville Brothers: Fiyo on the Bayou (A&M) 5; Human Switchboard: Who’s Landing in My Hangar? (Faulty Products) 5.

JOHN FOSTER: John Gavanti (Hyrax) 30; Raincoats: Odyshape (Rough Trade) 10; David Thomas & the Pedestrians: The Sound of the Sand and Other Songs of the Pedestrian (Rough Trade) 10; Killing Joke: …What’s This For? (Editions E.G.) 10; X: Wild Gift (Slash) 9; Dark Day: Exterminating Angel (Infidelity) 8; Zounds: Curse of Zounds (Rough Trade import) 8; Furors: Juke Box Album (Hit Man) 5; Eugene Chadbourne: There’ll Be No Tears Tonight (Parachute) 5; C. W. Vrtacek: Victory Through Grace (Leisure Time) 5.

NELSON GEORGE: Rick James: Street Songs (Gordy) 20; Slave: Show Time (Cotillion) 15; Fela Anikulapo Kuti: Black President (Arista import) 10; Chaka Khan: Whatcha’ Gonna Do for Me (Warner Bros.) 10; Ray Parker & Raydio: A Woman Needs Love (Arista) 10; Maze Featuring Frankie Beverly: Live in New Orleans (Capitol) 10; Earth, Wind & Fire: Raise! (Columbia/ARC) 10; Linx: Intuition (Chrysalis) 5; Steely Dan: Gaucho (MCA) 5; Curtis Mayfield: Love Is the Place (Boardwalk) 5.

ROGER GLASS: Quincy Jones: “Just Once” (A&M); Grover Washington, Jr.: “Just the Two of Us” (Elektra); Grace Jones: “Pull Up to the Bumper” (Island); Barbra Streisand: “Guilty” (Columbia); Smokey Robinson: “Being with You” (Tamla); Denroy Morgan: “I’ll Do Anything for You” (Becket); Mike and Brenda Sutton: “We’ll Make It” (Sam); Rita Marley: “Sin Sin” (Tuff Gong import); Skyy: “Call Me” (Salsoul); T.S. Monk: “Bon Bon Vie” (Mirage).

PABLO GUZMAN: Prince: Controversy (Warner Bros.) 20; Gil Scott-Heron: Reflections (Arista) 20; Devo: New Traditionalists (Warner Bros.) 10; Clash: Sandinista! (Epic) 10; David Byrne: Songs from the Broadway Production of “The Catherine Wheel” (Sire) 10; Jerry Harrison: The Red and the Black (Sire) 10; Eddie Palmieri (Barbaro) 5; Police: Ghost in the Machine (A&M) 5; Kid Creole and the Coconuts: Fresh Fruit in Foreign Places (Sire/ZE) 5; Was (Not Was) (Island/ZE) 5.

IRA KAPLAN (alphabetical): Cramps: “Goo Goo Muck”/”She Said” (I.R.S.); Cyclones: “You’re So Cool”/”RSVP” (Little Ricky); Fleetwood Mac: “Farmer’s Daughter” (Warner Bros.); Funky Four Plus One: “That’s the Joint” (Sugarhill); Vic Godard and Subway Sect: “Stop That Girl” (Oddball import); Grace Jones: “Pull Up to the Bumper” (Island); Kinks: “Better Things” (Arista); R.E.M.: “Radio Free Europe”/”Sitting Still” (Hib-Tone); Skeletons: “Trans Am”/”Tell Her I’m Gone” (Borrowed); Voggue: “Dance the Night Away” (Atlantic).

GREIL MARCUS: Go-Go’s: Beauty and the Beat (I.R.S.) 20; David Lindley: El Rayo-X (Asylum) 20; Red Crayola with Art & Language: Kangaroo? (Rough Trade) 15; Neil Young: Reactor (Reprise) 10; The Mekons (Red Rhino import) 10; Joy Division: Still (Factory import) 5; Rickie Lee Jones: Pirates (Warner Bros.) 5; The “King” Kong Compilation (Mango) 5; Au Pairs: Playing with a Different Sex (Human import) 5; Raincoats: Odyshape (Rough Trade) 5.

GREIL MARCUS: Gang of Four: Another Day/Another Dollar (Warner Bros.); Mekons: Die Mekons (Pure Freud import); Descendents: “Fats” [sic] E.P. (New Alliance); Vivien Goldman: Dirty Washing (99); Romeo Void: Never Say Never (415).

KRISTINE MCKENNA: James Brown: “Rapp Payback” (Polydor); Passions: “I’m in Love with a German Film Star” (Polydor import); Bob Dylan: “The Groom’s Still Waiting at the Altar” (Columbia); Cure: “Primary” (Fiction import); Human League: “Hard Times” (Virgin import); Heaven 17: “Fascist Groove Thing” (B.E.F. import); Psychedelic Furs: “Dumb Waiters” (CBS import); Spandau Ballet: “Chant Number One” (Chrysalis); Foreigner: “Urgent” (Atlantic).

JON PARELES: (unweighted): David Byrne: The Catherine Wheel (Sire cassette); Tom Verlaine: Dreamtime (Warner Bros.); Ronald Shannon Jackson: Eye on You (About Time); Funkadelic: The Electric Spanking of War Babies (Warner Bros.); Glenn Branca: The Ascension (99); Congos: Heart of the Congos (Go Feet import); Was (Not Was) (ZE); Rickie Lee Jones: Pirates (Warner Bros.); King Crimson: Discipline (Warner Bros. EG); Elvis Costello and the Attractions: Trust (Columbia).

RICHARD RIEGEL: Rick James: “Super Freak” (Gordy); J. Geils Band: “Centerfold” (EMI America); Rolling Stones: “Start Me Up” (Rolling Stones); Blondie: “Rapture” (Chrysalis); Talking Heads: “Once in a Lifetime” (Sire); Kinks: “Destroyer” (Arista); Yoko Ono: “Kiss Kiss Kiss” (Geffen); Rick Springfield: “Jessie’s Girl” (RCA Victor); David Johansen: “Here Comes the Night” (Blue Sky); Pat Benatar: “Hit Me with Your Best Shot” (Chrysalis).

DOUG SIMMONS: Lyres: AHS-1005 (Ace of Hearts); Minor Threat (Dischord); Mission of Burma: Signals, Calls, and Marches (Ace of Hearts); S.O.A.: No Policy (Dischord); Unknowns: Dream Sequence (Sire).

TIM SOMMER: Flipper: “Ha Ha Ha” (Subterranean); The Cure: “Primary” (Fiction import); Misfits: “London Dungeon” (Plan 9 import); Tenpole Tudor: “Swords of a Thousand Men” (Stiff); Black Flag: “Louie Louie” (Posh Boy); Exploited: “Dead Cities” (Secret import); the Gas: “Ignore Me” (Polydor import); Secret Affair: “Dance Master”/”Do You Know” (I Spy import); APB: “Chain Reaction” (Oily); Business: “Harry May”/”National Insurance Blacklist” (Secret import).

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LESTER BANG’S BALLOT

Because of the realities of the situation and a simple respect for music itself I am compelled to state in response to your poll that 1981 was in my view such a dismal year that I cannot in good conscience vote for more than two or three albums, much less 10. As you know, I always vote in these things strictly on the basis of how much I actually listen to the record, as opposed to how “significant” it might be. What I did this year was what almost everybody else, certainly including critics, did: listened to old music, when I listened at all. Because almost all current music is worthless. Very simply, it has no soul. It is fraudulent, and so are the mechanisms which perpetuate the lie that anybody else finds it vital enough to do more than consume and file or “collect” (be the first on your block). New Wave has terminated in thudding hollow xeroxes of poses that aren’t even annoying anymore. Rap is nothing, or not enough. Jazz does not exist as a musical form with anything new to say. And the rest of rock is recycling various formuli forever. I don’t know what I am going to write about — music is the only thing in the world I really care about — but I simply cannot pretend to find anything compelling in the choice between pap and mud. I haven’t made this decision without some soul-searching, but I feel that I can best serve the purposes for which I became a music critic in the first place by filing a protest ballot, with the following exceptions:

ALBUMS: 1. Jody Harris & Robert Quine: Escape (Infidelity) 30; 2. Richard Hell & the Voidoids: the album Richard recorded last spring and never got around to putting out. 20; 3. The Clash: Sandinista! (Epic) 10; 4. Public Image Ltd: Flowers of Romance (Warner Bros.) 5; 5. Stevie Nicks: Bella Donna (Modern) 5.

SINGLES: 1. Rolling Stones: “Start Me Up” (Rolling Stones); 2. Ramones: “We Want the Airwaves” (Sire); 3. Hank Williams Jr.: “All My Rowdy Friends (Have Settled Down)” (Elektra); 4. Roseanne Cash: “Seven Year Ache” (Columbia)

EPs: 1. A Taste of DNA (American Clave).

LOCAL BANDS: 1. DNA; 2. The Bloods; 3. Robert Quine.

P.S. Perhaps it will help to explain if I list the other albums that would have been in the running for my “Top 10”: Stones, Iggy’s Party, and Miles Davis, which in various ways manifested varying degrees of contempt for their audience so palpable they were ultimately unplayable; Ramones’ Pleasant Dreams and the Byrne-Eno album, which just didn’t work somehow; and John Lee Hooker’s Live Alone Volume 1, which is really all old stuff anyway.

and

Pazz & Jop Critics’ Poll Ballot 1981

LESTER BANGS: ALBUMS: 1. Jody Harris/Robert Quine: Escape (Infidelity)30; 2. “Velvet Underground 1966” (bootleg) 20; 3. Richard Hell & the Voidoids: Richard Hell & the Voidoids Now (Richard recorded it last spring but never got around to releasing it) 15; 4. The Clash: Sandinista (Epic) 5; 5. Public Image Ltd: Flowers of Romance (Warner Bros.) 5; 6. The Mekons (Red Rhino import) 5; 7. Stevie Nicks: Bella Donna (Modern) 5; 8. John Lee Hooker: Live Alone Vol. 1 (Labor) 5; 9. Ramones: Pleasant Dreams (Sire) 5; 10. Iggy Pop: Party (Arista) 5.

SINGLES: 1. Rolling Stones: “Start Me Up” (Rolling Stones); 2. Joy Division: “Atmosphere” (Factory 12-inch); 3. The Mekons: “Snow” (Red Rhino import); 4. Hank Williams Jr.: “All My Rowdy Friends (Have Settled Down)” (Elektra); 5. Roseanne Cash: “Seven Year Ache” (Columbia); 6. Ramones: “We Want the Airwaves” (Sire); 7. Blondie: “Rapture” (Chrysalis); 8. Afrika Bombaataa: “Zulu Nation Throwdown” (Paul Winley 12-inch); 9. That Charlie Daniels single that goes “blah blah water, she’s the devil’s daughter, she’s hard and she’s cold and she’s mean, blah blah blah, blah blah to wash away New Orleans”; 10. Richard Lloyd: “Get Off My Cloud” (Ice House).

EPS: 1. DNA: “A Taste of DNA” (American Clave); 2. The Angry Samoans: “Inside My Brain” (Bad Trip); 3. Dead Kennedys: “In God We Trust, Inc.” (Alternative Tentacles).

LOCAL BANDS: 1. DNA; 2. The Bloods; 3. The Angry Samoans.

and

FOLK AND ROCK
ALBUMS I LIKED THIS YEAR
By L. Bangs

1. Quine & Harris: Escape (Infidelity) 30; 2. The Clash: Sandinista (CBS) 10; 3. Public Image Ltd.: What the Hell’s the Name of that Fucker? (Warners) 5; 4. Beck Bogert & Appice (Epic) 5; 5. Beck Bogert & Appice Live (Japanese Epic) 5; 6. Grateful Dead: Dead Set (Artesia) 2; 7. Richard Hell & the Voidoids: Second Album Richard Never Got Around to Titling or Releasing 2; 8. Stevie Nix: Rat Poison (Chump Change) 2; 9. Rolling Stones: What’s in the Can, Charlie? (Mango) 2; 10. Muammar Qaddafi: Live on Hee Haw (Shelby Singleton) 2.

and

Just to save some time, here’s NEXT YEAR’S TOP 10

1. Robert Quine Orchestra: I Heard Her Call My Name Symphony (Columbia); 2. DNA Live at Madison Square Garden (Prestige); Richard Hell Sings the R. Dean Taylor Songbook (Tamla); 4. Emerson, Lake & Palmer: Heard Ya Missed Us, Well We’re Back (Factory); 5. The Clash: Rappin’ with Bert ’n’ Big Bird (Guest Artist: Oscar the Grouch) (Sesame); 6. Ramones: 14,000,000 Records (Epic); 7. Sue Saad and the Next with Robert Fripp: Jiggle Themes from Prime Time (Verve); 8. Lichtensteiner Polka Band: Hamtramck Oi Gassers (WEA); 9. Brian Eno: 24 New Songs with Bridges & Everything! (Egregious 2-album set); 10. Miles Davis: Rated X (Alternate Take) (Columbia).

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Top 10 Albums of 1981

1. The Clash: Sandinista! (Epic)

2. X: Wild Gift (Slash)

3. Elvis Costello and the Attractions: Trust (Columbia)

4. The Rolling Stones: Tattoo You (Rolling Stones)

5. Rickie Lee Jones: Pirates (Warner Bros.)

6. Squeeze: East Side Story (A&M)

7. Tom Verlaine: Dreamtime (Warner Bros.)

8. Prince: Controversy (Warner Bros.)

9. Rick James: Street Songs (Gordy)

10. Go-Go’s: Beauty and the Beat (I.R.S.)

 

Top 10 Singles of 1981

1. (Tie) Laurie Anderson: “O Superman”/”Walk the Dog” (One, Ten, Warner Bros.)
Rolling Stones: “Start Me Up” (Rolling Stones)

3. Grandmaster Flash: “The Adventures of Grandmaster Flash on the Wheels of Steel” (Sugarhill)

4. (Tie) Kim Carnes: “Bette Davis Eyes” (EMI America)
Yoko Ono: “Walking on Thin Ice” (Geffen)

6. Tom Tom Club: “Genius of Love” (Sire)

7. (Tie) Pete Shelley: “Homosapien” (Genetic import)
Soft Cell: “Tainted Love”/”Where Did Our Love Go?” (Sire)

9. Funky Four Plus One: “That’s the Joint” (Sugarhill)

10. Prince: “Controversy” (Warner Bros.)

— From the January 27–February 2, 1982, issue

 

Pazz & Jop essays and results can also be found on Robert Christgau’s site. His most recent book, Is It Still Good to Ya? Fifty Years of Rock Criticism, 1967–2017, was published last year.

Categories
CULTURE ARCHIVES From The Archives MUSIC ARCHIVES Pazz & Jop

1980 Pazz & Jop: The Year of the Lollapalooza

As we know, many voters found 1980 a confusing year. When Pazz & Jop gossip began a few months ago, various critics complained about their top 10s — after three or four inescapable lollapaloozas, 20 or 30 possibilities came to mind. Although different critics naturally heard different lollapaloozas, the poll did end up with three clear leaders, each more than 100 points (274 more in one case) ahead of its nearest rival: Talking Heads’ Remain in Light, Bruce Springsteen’s The River, and — easily the biggest winner in Pazz & Jop history — The Clash’s London Calling. Then there’s a cluster of four, then a cluster of two by artists who almost certainly would have done better if they weren’t black, and then the pack. The top three are the lollapaloozas, the next six inspired also-rans, and the rest varying amalgams of excellence and special interest.

Insofar as my personal take on 1980 is confusing, it’s because I spent the first nine months of the year trying to get a fix on the previous decade for a book-length Consumer Guide. As a result, I was only dimly aware of current music — after London Calling and Crawfish Fiesta in early January, no record really imprinted itself until October, although Public Image, the Brains, Gang of Four, the Pretenders, and Hassell & Eno all made dents. So I’ve spent the last three or four months force-feeding, which isn’t the method I prefer — popular music is meant to be lived with. This may have distorted some of my findings — I’m committed to a top 10 prepared two weeks ago for the balloting, and already I’d probably drop the Jacksons a few places and give five of the Clash’s points to Talking Heads and Prince. Still, I had my lollapaloozas, too — two from the collective top three and a third from the next six. But the more I listened the fonder I became of the top 10 also-rans as well, and in the end I found more than 40 A-quality records all-told. My force-fed conclusion: for quality, a good year, much like 1978 and 1979.

As our 201 1980 respondents learned late in December, the Board of Poobahs broadened eligibility this year. In the past we’ve limited the poll strictly to U.S.-manufactured (“released,” as we say) albums from the year in question. But this year both imports and “late-breaking” 1979 LPs were eligible, a change that had worked well when we introduced singles balloting in the previous poll. As a result, Michael Jackson’s Off the Wall appears in our top 40 for the second time, Pink Floyd’s The Wall sneaks in for the first, and two imports — Joy Division’s Closer and Young Marble Giants’ Colossal Youth — also make the list. My own top 40 also reflects these changes:

1. The Clash: London Calling (Epic) 25 2. Talking Heads: Remain in Light (Sire) 15 3. Prince: Dirty Mind (Warner Bros.) 12 4. Tom Robinson: Sector 27 (I.R.S.) 12 5. Wanna Buy a Bridge? (Rough Trade) 9 6. Jon Hassell/Brian Eno: Fourth World Vol. 1: Possible Musics (Editions E.G.) 7 7. John Lennon/Yoko Ono: Double Fantasy (Geffen) 5 8. Bruce Springsteen: The River (Columbia) 5 9. Professor Longhair: Crawfish Fiesta (Alligator) 5 10. The Jacksons: Triumph (Epic) 5.

11. Gang of Four: Entertainment! (Warner Bros.) 12. Public Image Ltd.: Second Edition (Island) 13. Alberta Hunter: Amtrak Blues (Columbia) 14. Neil Young: Hawks and Doves (Reprise) 15. Chic: Real People (Atlantic) 16. Captain Beefheart and the Magic Band: Doc at the Radar Station (Virgin) 17. The Feelies: Crazy Rhythms (Stiff) 18. Stevie Wonder: Hotter Than July (Tamla) 19. Poly Styrene: Translucence (United Artists import) 20. Si Kahn: Home (Flying Fish ’79).

21. The Psychedelic Furs (Columbia) 22. Pretenders (Sire ’79) 23. LPJE: Live at the Montreux Jazz Festival 1980 (Latin Percussion Ventures, Inc.) 24. The English Beat: I Just Can’t Stop It (Sire) 25. Pere Ubu: The Art of Walking (Rough Trade) 26. Pere Ubu: New Picnic Time (Chrysalis import) 27. John Prine: Storm Windows (Asylum) 28. Smokey Robinson: Warm Thoughts (Tamla) 29. Rockpile: Seconds of Pleasure (Columbia) 30. Joe “King” Carrasco and the Crowns (Stiff import). 31. X: Los Angeles (Slash) 32. Gil Scott-Heron & Brian Jackson: 1980 (Arista) 33. Steel Pulse: Reggae Fever (Mango) 34. Michael Hurley: Snockgrass (Rounder) 35. The Undertones: Hypnotised (Sire) 36. The Suburbs: In Combo (Twin/Tone) 37. The Clash: Black Market Clash (Epic Nu-Disk) 38. Bootsy: Ultra Wave (Warner Bros.) 39. T-Bone Burnett: Truth Decay (Takoma) 40. Lydia Lunch: Queen of Siam (ZE).

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No Room in the In: the Brains, Junie. Wait Till Last Year: XTC (Drums and Wires), the Brides of Funkenstein (Never Buy Texas from a Cowboy), Smokey Robinson (Where There’s Smoke…). Alternative disciplines: Arthur Blythe (Illusions), Steve Reich, Dollar Brand (African Marketplace), Big Youth (Progress), Henry Cow, Michael Mantler. Judgment reserved: Joy Division, Al Green, Bunny Wailer, Pylon, Sandinista!

My album choices are somewhat eccentric — four of my top 10 finished toward the bottom of the Pazz & Jop top 100, and 13 of my top 40 didn’t make the top 100 at all. But this is the kind of thing that happens to hermits — my singles list is positively weird. I didn’t get to go out dancing much in 1980, and listened to the radio only on vacation. (When I could stand it, that is — commercial broadcasting has really regressed. I’m hanging a red ribbon out my window till PIX comes back.) I’ve always believed that singles transcended consensus and objective judgment — there are so many that those you love aren’t just good, but enter your life. Here are 10 that affected mine:

1. Pylon: “Cool” (Caution) 2. The Beat: “Twist and Crawl” (Go-Feet 12-inch import) 3. Diana Ross: “Upside Down” (Motown) 4. John Anderson: “She Just Started Liking Cheatin’ Songs” (Warner Bros.) 5. Joy Division: “She [sic] Lost Control” (Factory 12-inch) 6. Stevie Wonder: “Master Blaster (Jammin’)” (Tamla) 7. Pretenders: “Brass in Pocket” (Sire) 8. The Slits: “I Heard It Through the Grapevine” (Antilles) 9. Lenny Kaye: “Child Bride” (Mer) 10. Suzanne Fellini: “Love on the Phone” (Casablanca).

The top of the singles poll is pretty weird, too, in its way — and exciting. When “Rapper’s Delight” tied for 22nd last year, who would have figured that a rap record would take it all 12 months later. I like other rap records even more than “The Breaks,” but there can be no doubt that it was Kurtis Blow (later for Deborah Harry) who took a genuine (New York!) street form to all of the people some of the time. Almost as remarkable (later for Deborah Harry) is the passionate support of Joy Division, who — unlike the Pretenders, last year’s import champs — did it with little radio. As for Deborah Harry, I figured “Call Me” for a shoo-in — she’s even got a Spanish-language disco disc out on Salsoul. But after that I think the singles list gets boring — commuters enjoying favorite album cuts outnumber the voters who live for all the one-shots that make 45-rpm so speedy these days. Other noteworthies include this year’s domestic-indie champs, the Bush Tetras of Gotham’s own 99 Records; John and Yoko; destined-to-be-mythic one-offs from the Vapors (the exotically slanted “Turning Japanese”), Lipps, Inc. (the tract-disco “Funkytown”), and Martha and the Muffins (the post-surf “Echo Beach”); imports from the Jam and the Pretenders (again); indies from Pylon and the Dead Kennedys; is-it-an-indie-or-import from Joy Division; and almosts by Richard Hell, Suicide, Delta 5, the English Beat, and, er, Queen.

For the second year, voters were also asked to list three local bands, defined as groups without major-label affiliation that gig regularly in their hometown areas (which need not be the voter’s — Token Uptown Poobah Dave Marsh threatened to vote for Fela Ransome-Kuti, and that would have been fine with me). Here I indulged my own subjectivity once again by honoring my fondest club memories of 1980 with no attempt at balanced long-term assessment: thank you to Material (at CBGB in February and the late lamented Tier 3 in July), DNA (at Irving Plaza in January and CBGB in November), and the Babylon Dance Band (at Trax in December).

Since about half the Pazz & Joppers live in New York, the local band category favors this locality, especially given its mushrooming (if clouded) club scene. Last year, though, Austin’s Joe “King” Carrasco (whose debut album placed 70th in 1980) finished a surprising second, and this year Los Angeles’s X (also a favorite last year) was the overwhelming winner — 26 votes to 10 for New York’s Kid Creole and the Coconuts and Boston’s Human Sexual Response. Working Poobah Debra Rae Cohen (who voted for X herself) thinks New York is too factionalized to champion one act, although Poobah in Absentia Tom Carson’s theory that the action is now elsewhere also has its merits. In any case, only four other New York bands — the Bush Tetras and the Nitecaps with eight votes, the db’s [sic] with six, and the Dance with four — made much of a showing. Other names to remember include Los Angeles’s Blasters (eight), Wall of Voodoo (four), Go-Go’s (four), and Falcons (four); Boston’s Mission of Burma (eight), Peter Dayton Band (five), and Stompers (four); Minneapolis’s Wallets (five) and Curtiss A (four); Kent, Ohio’s Human Switchboard (five); San Francisco’s Romeo Void (four); and Lawrence, Kansas’s Thumbs (four).

But what’s most interesting about the local band competition brings me back around to the crux of the poll, the LP ballot. Not only did X’s album — on Slash, outgrowth of an L.A. punkzine — come in 16th, but the two runners-up also had minor-label albums, Kid Creole on Antilles (77th) and Human Sexual Response on PVC, a domestic arm of import biggie Jem. Other locals with Indie LPs include the Blasters, the Human Switchboard, Curtiss A, and Thumbs. And while three indie albums made our top 40 in 1979, this year two imports brought the total to six. The indies finished higher, too. In short, as the big corporations opt out of marginal music, small entrepreneurs figure out how to make money off it (X’s Los Angeles is up to around 50 thou with Jem distributing, and the band tours a lot), and journalists spread the news. In short short, to reprise an old theme: avant-garde pop.

This is the time, then, when I should begin analyzing the two critical camps into which our increasingly enormous electorate is divided — the avant-gardists versus the traditionalists, the radicals versus the conservatives. With myself, of course, firmly on the side of the former, a/k/a The Good. But while I was certainly an avant-garde radical type five years ago, before there was a punk/new wave and a ditto press, I’ve since been outflanked by youngsters who wouldn’t think of putting old farts like the Clash and Talking Heads on their lists. Anyway, my tastes aren’t always even on the respectable left — The River and Double Fantasy aren’t my chart-toppers, but I prefer them to Entertainment! and Crazy Rhythms and The Art of Walking, enjoyably significant though I think those pop experiments are. And just exactly how does one categorize Triumph? Or for that matter Crawfish Fiesta and Amtrak Blues?

I mean, there are other ways to run it down. How about formalists versus expressionists, for instance? Now which side are you on? For, in general, those of us who were championing the Ramones (81st!) in 1976 have recently found ourselves aligned with “progressives” who, until the post-punk expansion, were amusing themselves with old Soft Machine records. Granted that their tastes have improved and ours broadened (or vice versa, if you prefer), I’m not entirely comfortable with this alliance. I don’t sympathize with the blues-and-country limitations of those who delve no further into “new wave” than Rockpile and the Pretenders, who seize upon every reworking by the Stones and the Who and Van Morrison as manna from rock ‘n’ roll heaven. But I also dissent from the affectlessness, the mannered despair and/or passion of so many rock vanguardists.

If these generalizations seem a mite broad, take them as hints and consider Triumph and Crawfish Fiesta again. One indication of how rich and basic black popular music is, how essential it ought to be to anyone who claims to like rock and roll, is the way black performers confound our already contradiction-ridden categories. Stevie Wonder and Smokey Robinson are committed formalists — they revel in music-for-its-own-sake above all. But without second-guessing themselves they also employ form to express (or simulate, doesn’t matter) the most elementary (which doesn’t mean simple) human emotions. To dismiss such artists as “corny” or “commercial” — the usual racist commonplace — is to misapprehend their context, tradition, and aesthetic aims. And what kind of vanguardism might that be?

One way of making sense of this mess might be to refer (gingerly, I hope) to auteur theory. Say Smokey and Stevie and maybe Van Morrison and John Lennon and Ray Davies are the equivalent of Ford and Siegel and Hawks — intentional artists, sure, but unselfconscious even when they’re pretentious. Ambitious craftsmen who think about their place in history — Pete Townshend, Bruce Springsteen, Bob Marley — are more like Preston Sturges (when they’re good) or John Huston (who offers more than meets the eye but can still be a real jerk). All the new guys, meanwhile, are like, how about that, Godard and de Broca and Bourguignon. La nouvelle vague, they used to call it.

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To extend the metaphor, you could say that each of the two latter groups has produced its Allens and De Palmas, too, and while away the tween-sets trying to figure who’s who. The question then becomes — where’s Francis Ford Coppola? I think 1980 was when various contestants made their bids. No more tightly controlled genre pieces for these boys; they were going for grand, sweeping — perhaps even popular! — statements. The rhythmic expansiveness of what just two years ago was a resolutely stiff-necked music — John Lydon’s reggae immersions, Talking Heads’ Africanisms, the Clash’s excavations in every rock and roll style — is one sure sign. Even more convincing that three of the top five LPs were doubles: London CallingThe River, and Second Edition. Not counting last year’s 10th-ranked Bad Girls, you have to go back to the ’76 and ’75 winners — Songs in the Key of Life and The Basement Tapes — to find another two-album set in the Pazz & Jop top 20. Clearly, a new generation of artists has achieved enough commercial stability and artistic scope to think big. It’s like 1968 or 1969 all over again, with the hubris of the new hierarchy kept in check, I hope, by their less than hegemonic control of the marketplace. And if the Clash and PIL and Talking Heads are (very roughly speaking) our Beatles and Stones and Byrds, can Van Morrison and Randy Newman be far behind? Presumably, they’re not far behind at all — which is as good a reason as any for me to devote the rest of this annual wrap-up to a rundown of the albums the critics chose as the best of 1980.

40. Pink Floyd’s The Wall: Nothing like a big single to attract belated attention to a struggling young band — “Another Brick in the Wall” got four votes and catalyzed enough album points to push this late-1979 release into the bottom slot. I take the song so seriously myself that I may go for my doctorate in social psychology.

39. Diana Ross’ Diana: Chic album of the year on the strength of “I’m Coming Out,” an all-purpose sell-the-gays hit that received four votes in the singles competition, and the tenth-ranked “Upside Down,” a good time for sure. Not since Lady Sings the Blues has Ms. R. been forced into such a becoming straitjacket. But I still prefer Chic’s own Real People, where Rodgers & Edwards get to, well, express themselves.

38. Joan Armatrading’s Me Myself I: The perennially unclassifiable London-based West Indian singer-songwriter meets Instant Records honcho Barry Gottehrer (Blondie, the Strangeloves) for her hardest music ever. The title tune is to narcissism as “Brown Sugar” is to racism, which serves somebody right.

37. John Lennon & Yoko Ono’s Double Fantasy: The only rockcrit-estab Voice-Phoenix-Stone types to vote for this besides co-fantasts R. Christgau and C. Dibbell were John Swenson and Martha Hume (cohabiting, though not with each other). The single finished high, however, so maybe more tastemakers will catch on after “Beautiful Boy” and “Watching the Wheels” top the charts.

36. Graham Parker’s The Up Escalator: By most accounts, the latest from last year’s victor-by-consensus is the downer of the year, following up on everything pinched in his singing and mean-spirited in his vision. But it’s hooky — “the hummable Graham Parker,” Tom Carson called it — and for some that’s apparently enough.

35. Carlene Carter’s Musical Shapes: Mother Maybelle’s most famous granddaughter and Nick Lowe’s most famous wife has been touted as the next Marshall Chapman since she surfaced in 1978, and here she comes up with the nasty, compassionate songs to justify it. Producer Lowe puts the likes of “Cry,” “I’m So Cool,” and “To Drunk (Too Remember) [sic]” into musical shape.

34. Arthur Blythe’s Illusions: Due more to demographics than to narrowing tastes — this is a rock critics’ poll, despite its silly but immutable name — jazz fared worse in this year’s P&J than in 1979, when the Art Ensemble of Chicago’s Nice Guys placed an unprecedented 29th and LPs by Mingus, Ulmer, Davis, Blythe, Coleman & Haden, Old and New Dreams, and Monk also finished in the top 100. In 1980 the Art Ensemble’s Full Force came in 91st and Jack DeJohnette’s Special Edition 54th, and unless you count Weather Report (82nd) or, no kidding, George Benson (62nd), that was it — except for the more avant-garde of Blythe’s two 1980 offerings (his In the Tradition also got two mentions). In 1979 I voted for Blythe’s Lenox Avenue Breakdown, which had a lot of witty, almost danceable things to say about body rhythms. Illusions didn’t make my list, mainly because it hit me as a “pure” jazz statement — the best I heard all year, a bracingly concise all-hands-in-top-form synthesis. Special plaudits to cellist Abdul Wadud, bassist Fred Hopkins, and guitarist Blood Ulmer. P.S.: Ulmer’s Are You Glad To Be in America? came out as a rather thin-sounding Rough Trade import in 1980; I eagerly await Artists House’s American mix.

33. Neil Young’s Hawks and Doves: This met with scorn from skeptics but was welcomed affectionately by Young’s admirers — only Neil would make a deliberately minor record about war and peace after four successive masterworks about himself. Not all of his admirers voted for it, though — me, for instance. And those who did gave it about 10 points per ballot — last year’s second-ranked Rust Never Sleeps averaged 13.

32. The Specials: Ska is/was a reactionary fad in England — white kids turning on to the black music of a time safely past. In America it’s just another Anglophile exoticism, and not a bad one — integrated bands are always an up. The Specials are on the catchy, jokey end of the continuum, their beat rapid and insistent but light, their politics liberal. The follow-up, More Specials, steepened their pop proclivities and was hailed for its brazen irony by some, but only two voters mentioned it.

31. Professor Longhair’s Crawfish Fiesta: The first blues album to make the poll was cut shortly before the death of the man who passed New Orleans piano from Jelly Roll Morton to Allen Toussaint. Part-time producer and full-time entrepreneur Bruce Iglauer deserves double thanks — it’s the best music ’Fess ever recorded, and it’s earned him the esteem he’s always deserved. The secret of the album isn’t so much standout tracks like “Big Chief” and Fats Domino’s “Whole Lotta Loving” but its jaunty, bow-legged gait, which ’Fess didn’t develop sailing the seven seas.

30. The Iron City Houserockers’ Have a Good Time (but Get Out Alive): Springsteen has always had imitators — take a bow and pose for the trades, Johnny Cougar. Joe Grushecky is more like a slightly self-conscious soul brother, shorter on talent but close to the roots. It’s poetic justice that the critics prefer him to Blondie (“Now they’re playing your song in all those places/They won’t let me and Angela in”), but I still prefer Autoamerican (three mentions).

29. Lydia Lunch’s Queen of Siam: I’ve walked out on three different bands led by this dame, but she’s come up with a funny, sexy little record, exaggerating her flat Cleveland accent into a hickish, dumb-and-dirty come-on and playing her foolish nihilist poetry for laughs. Pat Irwin’s big-band atonalisms are interesting in themselves and suit Lydia’s city-of-night shtick perfectly. And “Spooky” is the cover of the year.

28. The Police’s Zenyatta Mondatta: Not to be confused with 1979’s 35th-place Reggatta de Blanc, except perhaps by yours truly. Jon Pareles said it all in his January 14 Riff, including my main point: De do do do, de da da da.

27. Van Morrison’s Common One: As somebody who considers Moondance an apotheosis and has never gotten Astral Weeks, I think this is his worst since Hard Nose the Highway — sententious, torpid, abandoned by God. I know lots of Astral Weeks fans who agree. But Morrison has a direct line to certain souls, and they still hear him talkin’.

26. T-Bone Burnett’s Truth Decay: Having put the omega on Alpha Bandmate Steve Soles (Soles does show up in the credits, but — unlike the ever-adroit David Mansfield — not as a band member), the Christer who’s reputed to have pointed out the Way to Bob Dylan turns his attention to benighted rationalists like me and I hope you. On John Fahey’s Buddhist blues label. Since no Alpha Band record ever did much in this poll, grand Burnett is succes d’estime and pray that he’ll take on the Moral Majority next time — he’s got the guts. P.S. Dylan’s Saved didn’t make a single ballot.

25. Young Marble Giants’ Colossal Youth: I’d call this modern romance — two brothers, a girl, and a rhythm machine — the cult music of the year, only it doesn’t have the requisite high points-to-voter ratio (cf. Closer, Queen of Siam). Maybe that’s because its cult likes not getting excited about something. Call it cult Muzak of the year — quiet, tuneful, passing weird. Me, I prefer Hassell & Eno.

24. Squeeze’s Argybargy: Poppophiles Glen [sic] Tilbrook and Chris Difford don’t settle for have-fun fall-in-love fear-girls. They pen short stories worthy of early Rupert Holmes, and with a beat. Next title: Herkyjerky.

23. Smokey Robinson’s Warm Thoughts: To me, this was the biggest surprise of the poll, not because I don’t agree that he’s come back, but because I thought the turnaround was 1979’s Where There’s Smoke…, which received zero votes last year. My guess is that a groundswell began with “Cruising [sic],” the late-breaking single off that album and his biggest since “Tears of a Clown.” The follow-up LP is, well, slower — make-out rather than dance music, a more songful version of 1975’s unmoored A Quiet Storm.

22. Joy Division’s Closer: A controversial band, due mostly to the mysterioso torments of singer-lyricist Ian Curtis, who committed suicide from the apex of a love triangle last spring. I only began to hear the band when I ignored Curtis and concentrated on the other musicians’ dark, roiling, off-center rhythms. And now Curtis sounds pretty good to me.

21. The English Beat’s I Just Can’t Stop It: Known simply as the Beat in England, and rightly so — their ska is deep and driven. The bassline on “Twist and Crawl” (10 votes b/w “Hands Off She’s Mine”) moved more feet than anything Bernard Edwards came up with in 1980. Electoral-politics song of the year: “Stand Down Margaret.”

20. The Rolling Stones’ Emotional Rescue: You can tell this is an ordinary Stones album because it finished so far out of the money. World’s greatest rock and roll band, y’know.

19. David Bowie’s Scary Monsters: Bowie’s best-received LP since Station to Station is also his hardest-rocking since Diamond Dogs and Aladdin Sane, and the first time I’ve been fully convinced that his fascination with fascism is a species of repulsion. Wish I could say I liked the thing — he’s always tried to sing like a mime, ornate and overstated, and after a decade he’s really learned how.

18. Dire Straits’ Making Movies: If any rock and roller aspires to auteur status it’s Mark Knopfler, and among those with a taste for his rather corny plots this establishes his claim. Me, I’d rather hear him work on somebody else’s stories — his guitar has emerged from Eric Clapton’s shadow into a jazzy rock that muscles right past Larry Carlton and ilk. Steely Straits, anyone? Or would that be Dire Dan?

17. The Feelies’ Crazy Rhythms: Out-of-towners provided nine of the 19 mentions but only 72 of the 219 points for this New York cult band, and as a longtime cultist I go along with them: I can see listing this, but only near the bottom of a top 10. The band’s minimalist raveups have a body that doesn’t come fully alive on record — at least not this record, which is exciting in a disturbingly abstract way. Of course, that’s probably how these so-straight-they’re-cool weirdos want it.

16. X’s Los Angeles: Combining raw tempos and abrasive lyrics with sawed-off Chuck Berry guitar lines, the punkest album of the year almost justified the desperate stupidity of the rest of the band’s ingrown scene. But I was taken with this comment from L.A. critic Jay Mitchell: “Their death and gloom aura is closer to the Eagles, which is to say it is all Hollywood.”

15. Rockpile’s Seconds of Pleasure: Solo LPs by Dave Edmunds and Nick Lowe finished 13th and 14th in 1979. In 1980 the ace revivalists joined forces and dropped a place. Hmm. To me, this one proves Lowe’s conceptualist bravado, not his voice, is what stamps his albums. Another collection of good rock n’ roll songs in Edmunds’ neoclassicist manner, neither as slack as its detractors claim nor as meaningful as rock n’ roll loyalists wish.

14. Peter Townshend’s Empty Glass: Townshend has said the only reason this isn’t a Who record is that it wasn’t time for a Who record, which may be his way of apologizing for not being able to sing like Roger Daltrey. On his earlier solo ventures, the reflective, lyrical mood suited his light timbre. Here he tries to voice urgency and anger, with results that nonbelievers find whiny. Who fans, rock’s oldest and most steadfast critical fraternity, find the gap between aspiration and achievement touching and apt.

13. Michael Jackson’s Off the Wall: Nothing like four big singles to attract belated attention to a struggling young man — why else did eight new voters regard this 18th-place 1979 finisher as a 1980 album? I hope that when “Heartbreak Hotel” and two or three others make their mark, the Jacksons’ Triumph (83rd this year) will repeat the trick.

12. Steely Dan’s Gaucho: Another painstaking step toward the cocktail rock they’ve sought for almost a decade — after half a dozen hearings, their most arcane harmonies and unlikely hooks sound comforting, like one of those electro-massagers that relax the muscles with a low-voltage shock. Craftsmen this obsessive don’t want to rule the world — they just want to make sure it doesn’t get them.

11. Peter Gabriel’s Peter Gabriel: The first man of Genesis came back even stronger than Mark Knopfler after hitting a sophomore jinx with Peter Gabriel, on Atlantic. His post-progressive art-rock minidramas won support from formalists and expressionists both, fulfilling the debut promise of Peter Gabriel, on Atco. Personal fave: “Biko,” a different kind of Africanism.

10. Gang of Four’s Entertainment!: This suffers a bit from Feelies syndrome — the tense, zigzag rhythms sound thinner than they do from a stage, where the Gang also get to make their chanted non-melodies visible. But the band’s progressive atavism is a real formal accomplishment — by taking punk’s amateur ethos up a notch or three without destroying its spirit, they pull off the kind of trick that’s been eluding avant-garde primitives since the dawn of romanticism. And if you want to complain that their leftism is received, the same goes for your common sense.

9. Prince’s Dirty Mind: Although the vocals are love-man falsetto, the metallic textures and simple drum pattern are as much Rolling Stones as Funkadelic. And where the typical love man plays the lead in “He’s So Shy,” Prince is aggressively, audaciously erotic. I’m talking about your basic fuckbook fantasies — the kid sleeps with his sister and digs it, sleeps with his girlfriend’s boyfriend and doesn’t, and stops a wedding by gamahuching the bride on her way to church. I mean, Mick can just fold up his penis and go home.

8. Stevie Wonder’s Hotter Than July: “Side two is the perfect example of an artist doing his job and doing it well. With fun and grace at that,” saith the surprisingly quotable Jay Mitchell (never heard of him myself), who didn’t vote for it. I didn’t vote for it either, but I just played side one and found it only a little less of the same. Except for the all-embracingly pan-Afro-American “Master Blaster,” there’s no great Stevie on this album, but between his free-floating melodicism and his rolling overdrive, his hope and his cynicism, he seems more and more like the best thing the ’60s ever happened to. Sure outlasted Jerry Garcia, didn’t he?

7. Elvis Costello’s Get Happy!!: When this Stax-based 20-song loss leader failed to take either critically or commercially, I thought Costello had blown it — no shock to me, but obviously a major disappointment to Mr. Costello, his many believers, and the Columbia Broadcasting System. But while Get Happy!! fared somewhat worse than any of his other albums in Pazz & Jop, it received such strong and varied support that I’m now convinced of the opposite — that Costello’s craft and commitment bespeak the kind of staying power that keeps some critical faves in the running till they finally break through on sheer persistence.

6. Captain Beefheart and the Magic Band’s Doc at the Radar Station: Beefheart is a genius and an utter original, but that doesn’t make him the greatest artist ever to rock down the pike — his unreconstructed eco-freak eccentricity impairs his aesthetic as well as his commercial outreach. But never before have his nerve-wracking harmonies and sainted-spastic rhythms been captured in such brutal living color — if only he’d had saved some melodic secrets for side two, this might be the undeniable masterpiece he’s always deserved.

5. Public Image Ltd.’s Second Edition: In which former three-chord savage John Lydon reveals himself as yet another arty primitivist — a sharp, sophisticated one. PIL reorganizes the punk basics — ineluctable pulse, attack guitar — into a full-bodied, superaware white dub with disorienting European echoes, an ideal counterpart to the civilized bestiality of Lydon’s vocal drama. Much of this music is difficult, and some of it fails, but just about all of it makes me stop and listen. And “Poptones” could have been my single of the year.

4. Pretenders: It’s dumb to put them down as pop — pop hasn’t come this far yet and I’m not sure it ever will. They get on the radio, sure, but their structures are too open-ended (compare the anal-compulsive neatness of Squeeze or Elvis C.) and their passions too out-front. And no matter where they get their hooks, they have their own melodic style. Admittedly, though, Chrissie Hynde is a little thin in the soul — even her nastiness doesn’t sound as if there’s much behind it.

3. Talking Heads’ Remain in Light: In which David Byrne conquers his fear of music in a visionary cross-cultural synthesis, clear-eyed and rather detached yet almost mystically optimistic. One song celebrates a young terrorist, another recalls John Cale at his spookiest, a third turns failure into a religious experience. Yet when Byrne shouts out that “the world moves on a woman’s hips” — not exactly a new idea in rock and roll — it sounds as if he’s just discovered the secret of life for himself. Which he probably has.

2. Bruce Springsteen’s The River: All the standard objections apply — his beat is still clunky, his singing overwrought, his sense of significance shot through with Mazola Oil. But his writing is at a peak, and he’s grown into a bitter empathy. These are the wages of young romantic love among those who get paid by the hour. Maybe he’s giving forth with so many short fast ones because those circles of frustration and escape seem even more desperate now.

1. The Clash’s London Calling: Oh yeah, and then there was the Clash. If this was the Year of the Lollapalooza, the Clash was the Lollapalooza of the Lollapaloozas. Their triple-LP, Sandanista!, finished 55th as an import and is sure to come in a lot higher next year, and they also put out a 10-inch “EP” that had 34 minutes of music on it. But this was the biggest one, supported by all but the bared-teeth brigade and the shameless sticks-in-the-mud. It generated an urgency and vitality and ambition (that Elvis P. cover!) which overwhelmed the pessimism of its leftist world-view. And it was good for an actual hit single. I mean, what else is there?

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Selected Ballots

BILLY ALTMAN: Elvis Costello and the Attractions: Get Happy!! (Columbia) 15; T-Bone Burnett: Truth Decay (Takoma) 15; The Cars: Panorama (Elektra) 15; Public Image, Ltd.: Second Edition (Island) 10; Creedence Clearwater Revival: The Royal Albert Hall Concert (Fantasy) 10; Captain Beefheart and the Magic Band: Doc at the Radar Station (Virgin) 10; Joan Jett (Blackheart) 10; Talking Heads: Remain in Light (Sire) 5; Squeeze: Argybargy (A&M) 5.

LESTER BANGS: Public Image Ltd.: The Metal Box/Second Edition (Virgin import/Island) 30; Otis Rush: Groaning the Blues (Flyright import) 30; Talking Heads: Remain in Light (Sire) 5; The Sex Pistols: The Great Rock ’n’ Roll Swindle (Virgin import) 5; The Clash: Black Market Clash (Epic Nu-Disk) 5; The Rolling Stones: Emotional Rescue (Rolling Stones) 5; Captain Beefheart and His [sic] Magic Band: Doc at the Radar Station (Virgin) 5; Ramones: End of the Century (Sire) 5; Lydia Lunch: Queen of Siam (Ze) 5; Sid Vicious: Sid Sings (Virgin import) 5.

LESTER BANGS: Au Pairs: “Diet”/”It’s Obvious” (021 import); Teenage Jesus & the Jerks (Migraine EP); Mars (Lust Unlust EP); The Mekons: “Snow” (Red Rhino); The Clash: “Bankrobber” (CBS import); Lipps, Inc.: “Funkytown” (Casablanca); Ramones: “I Wanna Be Sedated” (RSO); Was (Not Was): “Wheel Me Out” (ZE/Antilles); Public Image Ltd.: “Memories”/”Another” (Virgin import); Bush Tetras: “Too Many Creeps” (99).

TOM CARSON: The Clash: London Calling (Epic) 20; Public Image Ltd.: Second Edition (Island) 20; Captain Beefheart and the Magic Band: Doc at the Radar Station (Virgin) 12; Elvis Costello and the Attractions: Get Happy!! (Columbia) 9; Peter Townshend: Empty Glass (Atco) 9; The Brains (Mercury) 9; David Bowie: Scary Monsters (RCA) 6; Ramones: End of the Century (Sire) 5; Iron City Houserockers: Have a Good Time (but Get Out Alive) (MCA) 5; The Rossington Collins Band (MCA) 5.

BRIAN CHIN (all 12-inch disco discs): S.O.S. Band: “Take Your Time (Do It Right)” (Tabu); Queen: “Another One Bites the Dust” (Elektra); George Benson: “Give Me the Night” (Warner Bros.); Rod: “Shake It Up (Do the Boogaloo)” (Prelude); Cameron: “Get It Off” (Salsoul); Gayle Adams: “Your Love Is a Life Saver” (Prelude); Gene Chandler: “Does She Have a Friend?” (20th Century); Kurtis Blow: “The Breaks” (Mercury); Teena Marie: “Behind the Groove” (Gordy); The Brothers Johnson: “Stomp!” (A&M).

DEBRA RAE COHEN: Talking Heads: Remain in Light (Sire) 14; The Clash: London Calling (Epic) 14; Public Image Ltd.: Second Edition (Island) 14; Joy Division: Unknown Pleasures (Factory import) 12; Arthur Blythe: Illusions (Columbia) 10; The Brains (Mercury) 7; Steely Dan: Gaucho (MCA) 8; Elvis Costello and the Attractions: Get Happy!! (Columbia) 8; Captain Beefheart and the Magic Band: Doc at the Radar Station (Virgin) 7; The Feelies: Crazy Rhythms (Stiff) 5.

DEBRA RAE COHEN: Joy Division: “Love Will Tear Us Apart” (Factory import); Joy Division: “She’s Lost Control”/”Atmosphere” (Factory 12-inch); Delta 5: “You” (Rough Trade import); Robert Wyatt: “At Last I Am Free” (Rough Trade import); Pylon: “Cool”/”Dub” (Caution); Suicide: “Dream Baby Dream” (Red Star); The Rolling Stones: “Emotional Rescue” (Rolling Stones); Kurtis Blow: “The Breaks” (Mercury); NRBQ: “Me and the Boys” (Red Rooster); The Jam: “Going Underground” (Polydor import).

BARRY MICHAEL COOPER: Junie: Bread Alone (Columbia) 15; Bootsy: Ultra Wave (Warner Bros.) 15; Devo: Freedom of Choice (Warner Bros.) 12; Herbie Hancock: Mr. Hands (Columbia) 12; Stevie Wonder: Hotter Than July (Tamla) 8; Al Green: The Lord Will Make a Way (Myrrh) 8; Cameo: Feel Me (Casablanca) 5; Talking Heads: Remain in Light (Sire) 5.

MIKE FREEDBERG: Prince: Dirty Mind (Warner Bros.) 15; Change: The Glow of Love (Warner Bros.) 15; Smokey Robinson: Warm Thoughts (Tamla) 15; Geraldine Hunt: No Way (Prism) 10; Diana Ross: Diana (Motown) 10; Earth, Wind & Fire: Faces (Columbia) 10; George Benson: Give Me the Night (Warner Bros.) 10; Stevie Wonder: Hotter Than July (Tamla) 5; Teena Marie: Irons in the Fire (Gordy) 5; Cameo: Feel Me (Casablanca) 5.

VAN GOSSE: Joy Division: “Love Will Tear Us Apart” (Factory import); Generation X: “Dancing with Myself” (Chrysalis 12-inch import); Kurtis Blow: “The Breaks” (Mercury 12-inch); The Tamlins: “Baltimore” (Taxi 12-inch import); Pylon: “Cool”/”Dub” (Caution); Siouxsie & the Banshees: “Christine” (Polydor import); Stevie Wonder: “Master Blaster (Dub)” (Motown 12-inch import); Bush Tetras: “Too Many Creeps” (99); Split Enz: “I Got You” (A&M); Siouxsie & the Banshees: “Israel” (Polydor import).

JOHN PICCARELLA: The Clash: London Calling (Epic) 15; Bruce Springsteen: The River (Columbia) 12; Talking Heads: Remain in Light (Sire) 12; Public Image Ltd.: Second Edition (Island) 10; Art Ensemble of Chicago: Full Force (ECM) 10; Captain Beefheart and the Magic Band: Doc at the Radar Station (Virgin) 9; Elvis Costello and the Attractions: Get Happy!! (Columbia) 8; Neil Young: Hawks and Doves (Reprise) 8; Peter Gabriel (Mercury) 8; The Psychedelic Furs (Columbia) 8.

GREIL MARCUS: Gang of Four: Entertainment! (Warner Bros.) 15; Image Publique S.A.: Paris Au Printemps (Virgin import) 15; Iron City Houserockers: Have a Good Time (But Get Out Alive) (MCA) 15; The Clash: London Calling (Epic) 15; Carlene Carter: Musical Shapes (Warner Bros.) 15; X: Los Angeles (Slash) 5; Roxy Music: Flesh + Blood (Atco) 5; Black Uhuru: Sensimilla (Mango) 5; Robin Lane & the Chartbusters (Warner Bros.) 5; Dire Straits: Making Movies 5.

GREIL MARCUS: The Beat: “Twist & Crawl” (Go-Feet import 12-inch); J. Geils Band: “Love Stinks” (EMI America); Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers: “Refugee” (Backstreet); Blondie: “Call Me” (Polydor 12-inch); The Clash: “Train in Vain” (Epic); Red Crayola: “Born in Flames” (Rough Trade import); The Beat: “Stand Down Margaret (Dub)” (Go-Feet import 12-inch); Delta 5: “You” (Rough Trade import); Tommy James: “Three Times In Love” (Millenium); Anemic Boyfriends: “Guys Are Not Proud” (Red Sweater).

DAVE MARSH: Bruce Springsteen: The River (Columbia) 30; Donna Summer: The Wanderer (Geffen) 17; Stevie Wonder: Hotter Than July (Tamla) 12; Smokey Robinson: Warm Thoughts (Tamla) 10; Van Morrison: Common One (Warner Bros.) 8; Peter Gabriel (Mercury) 8; J. Geils Band: Love Stinks (EMI America) 5; Public Image Ltd.: Second Edition (Island) 5; The Clash: London Calling (Epic) 5; Peter Townshend: Empty Glass (Atco) 5.

JON PARELES: Lydia Lunch: Queen of Siam (ZE) 20; Captain Beefheart and the Magic Band: Doc at the Radar Station (Virgin) 10; Talking Heads: Remain in Light (Sire) 10; Steve Reich: Octet/Music for a Large Ensemble/Violin Phase (ESM) 10; David Bowie: Scary Monsters (RCA) 10; Gang of Four: Entertainment! (Warner Bros.) 10; The Cars: Panorama (Elektra) 10; Laraaji: Ambient #3 Day of Radiance (Editions EG) 10; Bootsy: Ultra Wave (Warner Bros.) 5; Peter Gabriel (Mercury) 5.

JON PARELES: Siouxsie & the Banshees: “Happy House” (Polydor import); Glenn Branca: “Lesson No. 1” (99); NRBQ: “Me and the Boys” (Red Rooster); The Dance: “Dance for Your Dinner” (ON import EP); Bush Tetras: “Too Many Creeps” (99); Joy Division: “Love Will Tear Us Apart” (Factory import); Rod Stewart: “Passion” (Warner Bros.); Paul Simon: “Late in the Evening” (Warner Bros.); The Method Actors: “This Is It” (Armageddon import EP); Colin Newman: “B”/”Classic Remains”/”Alone on Piano” (Beggars Banquet).

ANDY SCHWARTZ: The Feelies: Crazy Rhythms (Stiff) 22; X: Los Angeles (Slash) 13; Joan Jett (Blackheart) 13; The Decline of Western Civilization (Slash) 12; Lydia Lunch: Queen of Siam (Ze) 10; Captain Beefheart and the Magic Band: Doc at the Radar Station (Virgin) 8; Echo & the Bunnymen: Crocodiles (Sire) 7; Public Image Ltd.: Second Edition (Island) 5; Elvis Costello and the Attractions: Get Happy!! (Columbia) 5; Jack DeJohnette: Special Edition (ECM) 5.

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Top 10 Albums of 1980

1. The Clash: London Calling (Epic)

2. Bruce Springsteen: The River (Columbia)

3. Talking Heads: Remain in Light (Sire)

4. Pretenders: Pretenders (Sire)

5. Public Image, Ltd.: Second Edition (Island)

6. Captain Beefheart and the Magic Band: Doc at the Radar Station (Virgin)

7. Elvis Costello and the Attractions: Get Happy!! (Columbia)

8. Stevie Wonder: Hotter Than July (Tamla)

9. Prince: Dirty Mind (Warner Bros.)

10. Gang of Four: Entertainment! (Warner Bros.)

 

Top 10 Singles of 1980

1. Kurtis Blow: “The Breaks” (Mercury)

2. Joy Division: “Love Will Tear Us Apart” (Factory import)

3. Blondie: “Call Me” (Chrysalis)

4. (Tie) The Clash: “Train in Vain”/”London Calling” (Epic)
Pretenders: “Brass in Pocket” (Sire)

6. Stevie Wonder: “Master Blaster (Jammin’)” (Tamla)

7. John Lennon: “(Just Like) Starting Over”/Yoko Ono: “Kiss Kiss Kiss” (Geffen)

8. The Vapors: “Turning Japanese” (United Artists)

9. Lipps, Inc.: “Funkytown” (Casablanca)

10 (Tie) Diana Ross: “Upside Down” (Motown)
Bruce Springsteen: “Hungry Heart” (Columbia)

— From the February 9, 1981, issue

 

Pazz & Jop essays and results can also be found on Robert Christgau’s site. His most recent book, Is It Still Good to Ya? Fifty Years of Rock Criticism, 1967–2017, was published last year.

Categories
CULTURE ARCHIVES From The Archives MUSIC ARCHIVES Pazz & Jop

1979 Pazz & Jop: The Pazz & Jop Critics’ Poll (Almost) Grows Up

A few weeks ago two rock critics were gossiping on the phone, something rock critics do more than ever now that there aren’t any press parties. Both were among the many newcomers asked to contribute to the sixth or seventh annual Pazz & Jop Critics’ Poll, and both were awed by this responsibility, as is only mete. One of them, however, was apparently overawed, he — I assume it’s a he, since most rock critics are — told my informant he felt like he’d been knighted. A jest, of course, but nevertheless — I mean, I’m obviously not the only one who takes this thing seriously. Every year I am beset by late ballots via special delivery and express mail; messengers and living critics come up to the fifth floor to hand me and my fellow Poobah their lists. And for what? No one is paid, and very few ballots are reprinted. As the poll gets larger the power of any individual to affect the result diminishes. But people actually listen again to dozens of albums, agonize, call long distance to clarify our chronically incomprehensible letter of invitation, all to assure that the tally reflects their deepest convictions. Ain’t representative democracy grand?

Representative of what, you might ask, and I admit I could be happier with the answer. This was to be the year the P&JCP grew up; I vowed that in 1979 I’d start tackling the problems of regional and racial spread early. But that vow, like others before it, went down to defeat. Instead I spent two days in mid-December working phones with co-Poobah Tom Carson. Our method was simple — frantic calls to acquaintances all over the country to ascertain who was actually reviewing records where, never mind how well — and its effectiveness scattershot. We did better in Minneapolis than Chicago and lousy indeed through the southeastern and Rocky Mountain states. It doesn’t bother me that L.A. and Boston are disproportionately represented, or that New York provided 66 of the 155 critics who responded. Those are the cities where the outlets are, and anyway, this is still a Voice poll — all Riffs contributors who hear a lot of records are included in automatically. But nobody from Nashville or Denver or Omaha or New Orleans was even invited, and this is a good time to mention that any regularly published rock critic with access to most of the important releases who’d like in should write now and I”ll file his or her address. Go knight yourself.

Racial balance proved even more difficult to come by. Our informants were useless, and consultation with black journalists around here yielded few new names. Finally, around New Year’s, I resorted to record company publicists specializing in black music, but most of the 30 or so invitations that resulted went out so late that I got only 11 back in time, enough to suss certain patterns but not enough to see them fully realized in the tally. The post office was a big problem in general. A lot of people got our instructions 10 or 12 days after they were mailed, or never, and when no first-class letters were delivered to the paper on deadline day we were forced to postpone the final count for 24 hours. Even so, late ballots kept dribbling in afterwards, including several from black critics and several others from regional punkzines, which were also contacted late. Next year we’ve got to get organized.

As it was, though, I think the poll ended up pretty much what it should have been in a very enjoyable but critically inconclusive year. Four “r&b” acts (the term is returning to favor) made the album list, expanded this year from 30 to 40 in honor of an enlarged electorate and the curly-headed kid in the third row. More black input would have meant more commanding finishes for all four — crossover queen Donna Summer, comeback prince Michael Jackson, disco pacemakers Chic, and elder statesman Stevie Wonder — as well as for Ashford & Simpson (Stay Free, 44th), probably Dionne Warwick (Dionne, 52nd), and possibly Millie Jackson (Live and Uncensored, 55th). More punkzine input would have helped the nouvelle vague concrete of Pere Ubu, the reggae agitprop of Linton Kwesi Johnson, the maximal minimalism of Philip Glass, and the elderly statesmanship of Iggy Pop, as well as pushing Off White (45th) and/or Buy the Contortions (47th) — James Chance’s two albums, which totaled 139 points on a spottily distributed independent label — into the top 40, and perhaps aiding XTC (Drums and Wires, 49th) and Wire (154, 53rd) as well. Both constituencies would have boosted Bob Marley, and either might have gone for the jazz records that got scattered mention: not only the Art Ensemble’s Nice Guys, but also Mingus at Antibes (48th) — three Mingus albums totaled 121 points — Air Lore (51st), and Blood Ulmer’s (excuse me, I mean James Blood’s) Tales of Captain Black (60th). And they would have upped the disco discs and imports on the singles chart.

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But especially if allowances are made for Nashville and Denver and Omaha and New Orleans, it’s hard to imagine any other album cracking this year’s top five: Armed Forces, by last year’s overpowering winner, Elvis Costello; Fear of Music, by Talking Heads, up from fifth in 1978; the confusing American version of The Clash, which in its 1977 English edition showed up on a lot of best-of-the-decade lists; Rust Never Sleeps, generally regarded as Neil Young’s best album since Tonight’s the Night; and this year’s model, Squeezing Out Sparks, by Graham Parker & the Rumour, who placed their first two albums at two and four in the 1976 poll but haven’t made much noise among the voters since.

The 1978 P&JCP’s consensus was, in the immortal words of my editor, a “triumph of the new wave,” with 16 of the top 30 albums falling clearly into the category and lots of others on the fringe despite increased participation by suspected conservatives. Not that I considered the triumph unmixed — my punkophile elation was undercut by my natural distrust of hegemony, especially defensive hegemony based on ressentiment. Commercially, after all, Saturday Night Fever and its trentuple platinum was spearheading its own victorious vanguard, and I detected in the sweep some of the racism and homophobia of “disco sucks,” then a mere slogan rather than an arrogantly out-of-it prefab “movement.” But it did seem that new wave was over the bottom line — that the best artists in the style (or whatever it is and was) were going to make albums for quite a while — and that print media were part of its success. It had always been a truism of the record manufacturers (and of music journalists) that good reviews don’t sell enough product to keep anybody but the reviewers in business. But recently it’s become apparent that between the prestige they impart and the core audience they generate (especially in the absence of adventurous radio), good reviews do keep good bands, in the immortal words of the Bee Gees, “stayin’ alive.”

That was last year. Since then, an arrogantly out-of-it prefab industry has taken a nasty fall, with some blame due both trentuple platinum (and the consequent lure of overproduction) and disco (now regarded once again as a cult music with crossover potential). As a consequence, there are rock and roll propagandists who’ll tell you that new wave’s triumph isn’t just artistic — that last year’s critical consensus is next year’s big thing. As usual, I don’t believe it’ll happen, and furthermore I don’t want anyone else to. I’m delighted that Blondie’s Parallel Lines, which finished 25th in the 1978 P&JCP, subsequently achieved the AM airplay and platinum sales its inspired popcraft deserved, and pleased enough that together with, yes, Get the Knack, (86th), it’s made it easier for similar bands to record. I even find a good many of the resulting power pop albums fairly likable. But a world of Blondies and Knacks would hardly be rock and roll heaven, and I worry about unreasonable expectations, which after a few foolish bidding wars could make new wave a no-no just like disco. Who needs them? Rock’s capital crisis is a drag for would-be Foreigners, but for good bands it’s a blessing. What ought to make new wave attractive bizwise isn’t mass appeal so much as strong regional roots in an era of prohibitive travel costs and strong simple music in an era of studio parsimony. To hell with superprofits. I’ll give you power pop if you’ll give me all the independent labels that have come over from Europe this year — I.R.S., ZE, Stiff, a revitalized Mango, a reorganized Virgin. May they prosper modestly, just like such U.S.-based companies as Alligator, Rounder, and Ralph.

In short, I haven’t spent years learning how and when to ignore the Hot 100 just so I could get all het up when Blondie makes number one or CBS makes a boo-boo. It was a great year for rock and roll — in a class with 1978, which was the best ever for the hard approach I prefer — because of all the good-to-great new records. Admittedly, it’s only over the past month, which I’ve spent in a continual state of desperate delight catching up with stuff I hadn’t found time for, that I’ve become fully convinced. And I think more of my finds are good than great — I’ll probably end up with 50 A or A minus albums from 1979, a few more than last year, but where in 1978 I wished I could squeeze 14 records into my top 10, now I could stop comfortably at seven. My top 10 would be even thinner if I hadn’t given up and included jazz records that enriched my rather inchoate rock aesthetic — that spoke to my shifting ideas about rhythm and electric noise, pop and folk, “accessibility.” (In other words, I eliminated all jazz in the pure music tradition first asserted by my favorite jazz style, bebop, including Thelonious Monk’s Always Know and Ornette Coleman/Charlie Haden’s Soapsuds, Soapsuds, which I love, and the Art Ensemble of Chicago’s Nice Guys, which — to my own discredit, I’m sure, since it came in number 29 this year, the first time an acoustic jazz record has ever placed — I never quite got.) Anyway, here’s my own list, with Pazz & Jop points appended to the top 10. It’s my custom to joke about how permanent the order is, but this year my listening is still in such flux that I won’t bother. Believe me, these are damn good albums, and there are others (by Irakere, Midnight Rhythm, the Heartbreakers, David Bowie, maybe Smokey, maybe Toots, maybe Cleanhead, maybe James) waiting in the winds:

1. The Clash (Epic) 18. 2. Neil Young & Crazy Horse: Rust Never Sleeps (Reprise) 17. 3. Pere Ubu: Dub Housing (Chrysalis) 14. 4. Van Morrison: Into the Music (Warner Bros.) 11. 5. Air: Air Lore (Arista Novus) 11. 6. Graham Parker & the Rumour: Squeezing Out Sparks (Arista) 9. 7. The B-52s (Warner Bros.) 5. 8. Nick Lowe: Labour of Lust (Columbia) 5. 9. The Roches (Warner Bros.) 5. 10. Arthur Blythe: Lenox Avenue Breakdown (Columbia) 5.

11. Tom Verlaine (Elektra). 12. Donna Summer: Bad Girls (Casablanca). 13. Talking Heads: Fear of Music (Sire). 14. Wreckless Eric: The Whole Wide World (Stiff). 15. The Only Ones: Special View (Epic). 16. Shoes: Present Tense (Elektra). 17. James Monroe H.S. Presents Dr. Buzzard’s Original Savannah Band Goes to Washington (Elektra). 18. The Buzzcocks: Singles Going Steady (I.R.S.). 19. Neil Young & Crazy Horse: Live Rust (Reprise). 20. Marianne Faithful: Broken English (Island).

21. Linton Kwesi Johnson: Forces of Victory (Mango). 22. Dave Edmunds: Repeat When Necessary (Swan Song). 23. Fashion: Product Perfect (I.R.S.). 24. James Brown: The Original Disco Man (Polydor). 25. Gary Numan & Tubeway Army: Replicas (Atco). 26. Michael Jackson: Off the Wall (Epic). 27. Culture: International Herb (Virgin Internatioal). 28. Chic: Good Times (Atlantic). 29. Millie Jackson: Live and Uncensored (Polydor). 30. Living Chicago Blues Volume 1 (Alligator).

31. Lene Lovich: Stateless (Stiff/Epic). 32. Tom Robinson Band: TRB Two (Harvest). 33. James Blood: Tales of Captain Black (Artists House). 34. Cory Daye: Cory and Me (New York International). 35. Mutiny: Mutiny on the Mamaship (Columbia). 36. Steel Pulse: Tribute to the Martyrs (Mango). 37. Blondie: Eat to the Beat (Chrysalis). 38. Roxy Music: Manifesto (Atlantic). 39. George Jones: My Very Special Guests (Epic). 40. Elvis Costello: Armed Forces (Columbia).

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But though record albums dominated rock in the ’70s, they’ve never been the whole story, as both new wave and disco have demonstrated. Somewhat belatedly, the P&JCP has expanded to reflect this: In addition to 10 albums, contributors were asked for unweighted lists of up to 10 singles and three local bands. From disco adepts like Mike Freedberg (“it’s impossible to poll disco, or even black slow music, fairly from LPs alone”) to r&b oldtimers like Robert Pruter (“my record-buying friends have always bought singles and always preferred them to albums”), black music fans were enthusiastic, and so were new wavers, many of whom commented that it was hard to keep their lists to 10. “Rock” people, on the other hand, complained (Noel Coppage of Stereo Review: “I’m too old and elitist for this shit”; Blair Jackson of Bay Area Music: “Aah forget it. I hate most singles”). Since I spend most of my working (and waking) hours listening to albums, I had no trouble containing my list, but the following 10 singles definitely weren’t the only ones to make a dent on my life this year:

The Brains: “Money Changes Everything” (Gray Matter); Michael Jackson: “Don’t Stop ’Til You Get Enough” (Epic); the Clash: “1-2 Crush on You” (CBS import); James Brown: “It’s Too Funky in Here” (Polydor 12-inch); Sister Sledge: “We Are Family” (Cotillion 12-inch); McFadden & Whitehead: “Ain’t No Stoppin’ Us Now” (Philadelphia International 12-inch); Kleenex: “Ain’t You” (Rough Trade import); the B-52s: “Rock Lobster”/”52 Girls” (B-52s); the Records: “Starry Eyes” (Virgin); Machine: “There but for the Grace of God Go I” (RCA Victor).

The new category in which I had more trouble limiting my selections was local bands, an appellation that was left vague to find out how the voters would define it. For me, there were two musts: the Feelies, whose avant-garde surf music thrilled me frequently before they withdrew to the big time, and the James “Blood” Ulmer Quartet, whose second set at the Tin Palace May 23 rivaled the Clash at the Palladium for intensity and who also fused me at CBGB and Hurrah. But I passed on the Lounge Lizards and In the Tradition — not to mention Joe “King” Carrasco and the Crowns, whose visit from Austin impressed a lot of people, as we shall see — reluctantly, only so I could pay my respects to Richard Hell’s lamented Voidoids.

New York seemed bound to dominate the local band competition — on demographics, if not sheer vitality. And indeed, the winner was predictable, a shoo-in with 14 votes: Anya’s Bad Boy himself, James Chance, a/k/a James White and the Blacks, a/k/a the Contortions. (This year we’re giving out awards with the poll and we’re wondering whether James would prefer his across the backs of the thighs.) But after that the New York vote broke up, so that three out-of-town bands scored more mentions than the local second-runner. Most impressive by far was the aforementioned Senor Carrasco, who divided 10 votes between Texas and New York — his band sounds like a speedy synthesis of every Farfisa group that ever tripped over a hook, and you’d better listen up or they’ll pass you on the left. After that, with six mentions, came X, from Los Angeles, and Human Sexual Response, from Boston (though as a sexually responsive human I must register my doubts about the latter). New York’s Fleshtones strolled in fifth with five. Other strong showings included four votes for New York’s Feelies and L.A. Alley Cats, and three for Curtiss A (Minneapolis), the Beat (San Francisco and CBS), Greg Kihn (Berkeley and Beserkley), Robin Lane (Boston and pretty soon now Warners, plus an indie EP that scored on our singles chart), the Lounge Lizards (New York), the Naughty Sweeties (L.A.), the Nervous Eaters (Boston), Prince Charles and the City Beat Band (Boston), the Speedies (New York), Blood Ulmer (New York), and the Zippers (L.A.).

It may say something about local-band consensus or lack of it that although I spent more time seeing groups in clubs in 1979 than ever before, my most unforgettable moment was not provided by Blood Ulmer or the Feelies or even Pere Ubu. It came one frigid night in February when three of us slogged uptown to catch the Only Ones and instead stumbled upon a seething mass of well-kempt youths who were dancing to rock and roll. Mercy day, I said to myself, this ain’t no Mudd Club, or CBGB — this is the “rock disco” Hurrah, only it has normal rock and rollers in it. Straight weekend escapists, on leave from Fordham and Farleigh Dickinson and high school, they danced stiffly, except for a few scattered punks, but there they were, shaking ass to Cheap Trick and the Cars and Devo and the Ramones. Suddenly I believed yet again that rock and roll was here to stay.

This wasn’t the punk-disco fusion I had posited wistfully at the end of last year’s P&JCP roundup, but it was a start — a primitive one, as it turned out. Six months later art-punk and electropop were melding into dance tracks as empty as the most soulless Eurodisco, and if you wanted to step out to Cheap Trick you had to go to Brooklyn, or anyway Heat — suddenly rock discos were all over the place. But by that time the B-52s had proven that they really were “a tacky little dance band from Athens, Georgia” — it was on the dance floor rather than in my living room that they made my top 10 — and white people were once again catching up with the black music of an earlier time, in this case James Brown funk. Bizzers began talking about DOR — dance-oriented rock — instead of disco, and a real punk-disco fusion was achieved by two notable records, which oddly enough ended up on top of the first P&JCP singles chart: Ian Dury’s “Hit Me with Your Rhythm Stick”/”Reasons To Be Cheerful, Pt. 3” and M’s “Pop Muzik.”

I must now interrupt this program to explain how singles were counted. P&JCP contributors are asked to limit their album choices to domestic releases so as not to split support for the many new albums released in different years on different sides of the Atlantic. But singles are about immediate impact, and critics who care about them usually buy (or trade for) imports. So rules were kept to a minimum, and we got votes for all kinds of stuff — not just EPs and disco discs, which were encouraged, but promos, even album cuts, the latter of which were expressly forbidden (and not counted). Multiple editions, configurations, and mixes presented worse problems. In the end we decided not only to add all versions of a song together, but — as a tribute to the ancient concept of the two-sided single — to combine the votes for two songs that appeared on the same record. This is how Ian Dury beat out Robin Scott (a/k/a M), whose “Pop Muzik” was certainly our song of the year. Not everyone who voted for “Rhythm Stick” or “Cheerful” has even heard the 12-inch that included both songs; some may (foolishly) disapprove of the disco mixes. But it seemed fairest to consolidate all of Dury’s votes.

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Although singles actually played and possessed by critics would have been preferred, we got a lot of lists of radio favorites. This was fair enough. Both the r&b trend in disco and the popularization of new wave have once again “made the radio fun” (J.D. Considine); 1979 was the year when Donna Summer heated up her stuff and Nick Lowe produced pure pop for real people. But even the best radio stations don’t play all the most interesting music, and away from the likes of BCN and PIX it’s still hard to hear imports and indies. Which is why the showing of the Brains’s privately produced and distributed “Money Changes Everything” — a little too slow for DOR, much too obscure for AOR, and tied for ninth anyway — is doubly significant. And why the Pretenders, who without a U.S. release got more votes than any singles artist except Donna Summer (in addition to “Stop Your Sobbing” and “Kid,” “Brass in Pocket” was on seven ballots), can be expected to make considerable noise with their debut album.

I must admit that I found the singles chart more interesting than the generally unexceptionable album selections. That’s what’s so great about the singles — they’re quirky. I especially enjoyed the tie for sixth — “My Sharona,” which brightened the radio as surely as Fantastik takes the enamel off your refrigerator, and “Tusk,” the weirdest 45 issued by any megagroup since the defeat of George McGovern. I was pleased that Funkadelic, who dipped almost as precipitously as Ian Dury in the album voting (Dury went from 13th to one mention, Funkadelic from 27th to 89th), could score in its long suit. I was glad so many high school intellectuals manque admitted their crush on the grown-up teen schlock of Peaches & Herb. And I found the five-way tie for 22nd laudable in five different directions.

It’s worth pointing out that the singles list is hardly a triumph of the new wave. Given the presumed bias of the electorate, it’s more of a triumph of disco, with two consciously compromised (and quite enjoyable, don’t get me wrong) punk-disco fusions beating out two irresistible examples of the real thing — except, of course, that “Hot Stuff” is as much a conscious compromise as “Pop Muzik.” The real new wave triumph goes to the Pretenders, who did it with a Ray Davies song. Hmm. Perhaps after triumph comes growth, consolidation, and some looking around, eh? That’s the way the album vote looks to me.

First of all, despite (or maybe because of, as they say) the plethora of new wave albums released in 1979, the number of them in the top 30 is down from 16 to 14 — not a big dip, but enough to make room for Michael Jackson and the Art Ensemble. Moreover, even the staunchest new wavers seem to have broadened their listening this year — Donna Summer and to a lesser extent Chic got votes from all over, and it was the hard-core punks who brought Linton Kwesi Johnson home. Also, the new wave grows older. Of the nine debut albums in the top 30 last year, seven were outright new wave, an eighth was David Johansen, and a ninth was the Cars (who fell to 61st this year, which may say more about the fickleness of pop fans than the fickleness of the Cars). This year’s eight debuts include the Roches, Marianne Faithfull, Rickie Lee Jones, and Linton Kwesi Johnson as well as the B-52s, the Buzzcocks, Lene Lovich, and Joe Jackson (hurray for all the women in that catalogue, by the way — last year we were down to Blondie and Patti Smith). And if the widespread support for Pere Ubu’s gruesome, funny, resolutely experimental, subtly hooky Dub Housing is a shot in the arm for the futurists among us, the equally strong showing of Tom Petty’s Damn the Torpedoes is a shot in the mouth.

Petty got this year’s Bruce Springsteen Memorial Rock and Roll Verities vote. Damn the Torpedoes is a pretty good record, but a measure of its appeal is that of 18 first-string daily critics, always the conservatives, 12 voted for it. (None, by the way, selected Pere Ubu; one of them, in fact, is reputed to have once — literally — pulled the plug on the band.) Damn the Torpedoes is a breakthrough for Petty because finally the Heartbreakers (his Heartbreakers, this Live at Max’s fan should say) are rocking as powerfully as he’s writing. But whether Petty has any need to rock out beyond the sheer doing of it — that is, whether he has anything to say — remains shrouded in banality. And in this he establishes himself as the fave rave of those who want good rock and roll that can be forgotten as soon as the record or the concert is over, rock and roll that won’t disturb your sleep or your conscience or your precious bodily rhythms. It’s fun in small doses — about three minutes is right — and it beats state-of-the-studio smuggeries like those of Supertramp (tied for 66th) or the Eagles (69th). But if Tom Petty ends up defining rock and roll heaven, then Johnny Rotten will have died in vain.

I don’t mean to imply that the 1979 P&JCP is a triumph of let’s-boogie revisionism, and a good thing, too. But as a 37-year-old pro, I’ll trade insults myself with any ageist putz who claims it’s impossible for other aging pros to make exciting rock and roll, and I think that, basically, this happened to be a year when old guarders — from artists like Neil Young and Van Morrison to craftsmen like Ry Cooder and Fleetwood Mac — managed to translate their vitality and courage to vinyl again. Morrison’s return was especially auspicious; he shows signs of turning into Ray Charles with lyrics. But the voters pretty much knew it wasn’t happening: Old guarders who made tired albums, like Randy Newman, were rewarded in kind (43rd), and those who flubbed altogether, like Joni Mitchell, got theirs (two mentions). And I believe the great El Lay hope of Rickie Lee Jones is a chimera, the same goes for the great post-punk hope of Joe Jackson. There are no stylistic rules; lots and lots of good records are being made; collectively, the critics have a pretty accurate idea of what they are.

And so, upon reflection, I think that Squeezing Out Sparks is an entirely apposite winner. Graham Parker is a genuine transitional artist. Surfacing a little earlier than fellow pub-rock veterans like Nick Lowe and Elvis Costello, he never assumed the kind of protective pop irony they’ve perfected. Though his lyrics are knotty, their passion is palpable — Parker speaks directly. And his music, while a long way from Robbie Robertson, isn’t reticent about its blues and country roots. Rhythmically and dramatically he’s not above corn, but it would be risky to call him safe — he might [spit] in your eye. I found that the masterfully hooked-up Squeezing Out Sparks wore thin after a powerful initial impression, but the memory of its craft and commitment stayed with me, and apparently many felt the same. The kind of critics who voted for Rickie Lee Jones or Ry Cooder often picked it number one, but those of us who preferred Neil Young or the Clash (both of which got as many first-place votes) still felt inclined to pay our respects, which is how it amassed its solid margin. If this be compromise, I just might settle for it myself.

The Pazz & Jop Critics’ Poll has grown quite a bit since its semi-official quasi-beginning in 1974. Once it was a survey of a few writers I especially respected; now I’ve never read half the people whose ballots I tabulate. It’s based on what may be a naive belief — that people who listen long and hard enough to formulate their opinions on paper have special judgments to make. That assumption is holding up pretty well so far.

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Selected Ballots

ADAM BLOCK: Ian Dury & the Blockheads: “Beat [sic] Me with Your Rhythm Stick”/”Reasons To Be Cheerful, Pt. 3” (Stiff/Epic 12-inch); Roxy Music: “Dance Away” (Atlantic 12-inch); Records: “Starry Eyes” (Virgin); Nick Lowe: “Cruel To Be Kind” (Columbia); Jacksons: “Blame It on the Boogie” (Epic 12-inch); M: “Pop Muzik” (Sire); Pearl Harbor & the Explosions: “Release It”/”Drivin’ ” (415); Sister Sledge: “We Are Family” (Atlantic 12-inch); Ray Charles: “Some Enchanted Evening” (Atlantic); James White and the Blacks: “Contort Yourself” (ZE 12-inch).

TOM CARSON: M: “Pop Muzik” (Sire); Lene Lovich: “Lucky Number” (Stiff/Epic); Ian Dury & the Blockheads: “Hit Me with Your Rhythm Stick” (Stiff/Epic); Dave Edmunds: “Girls Talk” (Swan Song); Marianne Faithfull: “Broken English” (Island); Sister Sledge: “We Are Family” (Cotillion); Sid Vicious: “My Way” (Virgin 12-inch import); Talking Heads: “Life During Wartime” (Sire); The Kinks: “Superman” (Arista 12-inch); Anita Ward: “Ring My Bell” (T.K.).

GREIL MARCUS: Essential Logic (Virgin import EP); Brains: “Money Changes Everything” (Gray Matter); Donna Summer: “Hot Stuff” (Casablanca); Pretenders: “Stop Your Sobbing” (Real import); Blue Oyster Cult: “In Thee” (Columbia); Marianne Faithfull: “Broken English”/”Why D’Ya [sic] Do It” (Antilles 12-inch); Moon Martin: “Rolene” (Capitol); Foreigner: “Dirty White Boy” (Atlantic); Public Image Ltd.: “Memories” (Virgin import); Delta 5: “Now That You’ve Gone” (Rough Trade import).

JON PARELES: Brains: “Money Changes Everything” (Gray Matter); Ian Dury: “Hit Me with Your Rhythm Stick” (Stiff/Epic); Fleetwood Mac: “Tusk” (Warner Bros.); Donna Summer: “Hot Stuff” (Casablanca); Elvis Costello: “My Funny Valentine” (Columbia promo); Gang of Four: “At Home He’s a Tourist” (EMI import); Pop Group: “We Are All Prostitutes” (Rough Trade import); Robin Lane & the Chartbusters: “When Things Go Wrong” (Deli Platters); Machine: “There but for the Grace of God Go I” (RCA Victor 12-inch).

GEORGE ARTHUR: Blondie: Eat to the Beat (Chrysalis) 15; Dave Edmunds: Repeat When Necessary (Swan Song) 12; Rickie Lee Jones (Warner Bros.) 12; Lene Lovich: Stateless (Stiff/Epic) 12; Nick Lowe: Labour of Lust (Columbia) 10; Kinks: Low Budget (Arista) 9; Rachel Sweet: Fool Around (Stiff/Columbia) 8; Jerry Lee Lewis (Elektra) 8; Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers: Damn the Torpedoes (Backstreet/MCA) 8; Get the Knack (Capitol) 6.

LESTER BANGS: Van Morrison: Into the Music (Warner Bros.) 25; Marianne Faithfull: Broken English (Island) 20; The Clash (Epic) 20; Talking Heads: Fear of Music (Sire) 5; Lou Reed: The Bells (Arista) 5; Neil Young & Crazy Horse: Live Rust (Warner Bros.) 5; Charles Mingus: Mingus at Antibes (Atlantic) 5; Miles Davis: Circle in the Round (Columbia) 5; Heartbreakers: Live at Max’s Kansas City (Max’s Kansas City) 5; Patti Smith Group: Wave (Arista) 5.

BRIAN CHIN (all 12-inch disco discs): Fern Kinney: “Groove Me” (T.K.); Jackie Moore: “This Time Baby” (Columbia); Love De-Luxe: “Here Comes That Sound Again” (Warner Bros.); Don Armando’s Second Avenue Rhumba Band: “I”m an Indian Too”/”Deputy of Love” (ZE); Bionic Boogie: “Hot Butterfly” (Polydor); Machine: “There but for the Grace of God Go I” (RCA Victor); Claudja Barry: “Boogie Woogie Dancin’ Shoes” (Chrysalis); Carrie Lucas: “Dance with You” (Solar); Black Ivory: “Mainline” (Buddah).

TOM CARSON: David Bowie: Lodger (RCA Victor) 14; The Clash (Epic) 14; Elvis Costello: Armed Forces (Columbia) 14; Pere Ubu: Dub Housing (Chrysalis) 12; Graham Parker & the Rumour: Squeezing Out Sparks (Arista) 10; The Roches (Warner Bros.) 9; Nick Lowe: Labour of Lust (Columbia) 8; Neil Young & Crazy Horse: Live Rust (Warner Bros.) 7; Lou Reed: The Bells (Arista) 7; Iggy Pop: New Values (Arista) 6.

DAVID JACKSON: Millie Jackson: Live and Uncensored (Polydor) 15; Talking Heads: Fear of Music (Sire) 10; Art Ensemble of Chicago: Nice Guys (ECM) 10; Steppin’ with the World Saxophone Quartet (Black Saint import) 10; Van Morrison: Into the Music (Warner Bros.) 10; Miles Davis: Circle in the Round (Columbia) 10; Neil Young & Crazy Horse: Live Rust (Warner Bros.) 10; Robin Williamson and His Merry Band: A Giant at the Kindling (Flying Fish) 9; James Blood: Tales of Captain Black (Artists House) 8; Bread and Roses (Fantasy) 8.

GREIL MARCUS: Van Morrison: Into the Music (Polydor) 20; Neil Young & Crazy Horse: Rust Never Sleeps (Reprise) 15; Fleetwood Mac: Tusk (Warner Bros.) 15; Peter Green: In the Skies (Sail) 15; Tonio K: Life in the Foodchain (Full Moon/Epic) 10; Graham Parker & The Rumour: Squeezing Out Sparks (Arista) 5; David Johansen: In Style (Blue Sky) 5; Pere Ubu: Dub Housing (Chrysalis) 5; Randy Newman: Born Again (Warner Bros.) 5; Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers: Damn the Torpedoes (Backstreet/MCA) 5.

REGGIE MATTHEWS: Brenda Russell (Horizon) 15; Heath Brothers: In Motion (Columbia) 13; Ron Carter: Parade (Milestone) 12; McCoy Tyner: Together (Milestone) 11; Kinks: Low Budget (Arista) 11; Michael Jackson: Off the Wall (Epic) 10; Donna Summer: Bad Girls (Casablanca) 10; Graham Parker & the Rumour: Squeezing Out Sparks (Arista) 7; Ashford & Simpson: Stay Free (Warner Bros.) 6; Jeff Lorber: Water Sign (Arista) 5.

MARIE MOORE: Stevie Wonder’s Journey Through the Secret Life of Plants (Tamla) 10; Chic: Risque (Atlantic) 10; Ashford & Simpson: Stay Free (Warner Bros.) 10; Crusaders: Street Life (MCA) 10; Cameo: Secret Omen (Chocolate City) 10; George Benson: Live Inside Your Love (Warner Bros.) 10; Dionne Warwick: Dionne (Arista) 10; Stephanie Mills: What Cha Gonna Do with My Lovin’ (20th Century-Fox) 10; Michael Jackson: Off the Wall (Epic) 10; Commodores: Midnight Magic (Motown) 10.

JON PARELES: Pere Ubu: Dub Housing (Chrysalis) 15; Talking Heads: Fear of Music (Sire) 15; James White and the Blacks: Off White (ZE) 15; Philip Glass/Robert Wilson: Einstein on the Beach (Tomato) 15; Art Bears: Winter Songs (Ralph) 15; David Bowie: Lodger (RCA Victor) 5; XTC: Drums and Wires (Virgin) 5; Police: Regatta de Blanc (A&M) 5; Wire: 154 (Warner Bros.) 5; Tom Verlaine (Elektra) 5.

DOUG SIMMONS: Iggy Pop: New Values (Arista) 25; The Clash (Epic) 15; Buzzcocks: Singles Going Steady (I.R.S.) 10; Pere Ubu: Dub Housing (Chrysalis) 10; Linton Kwesi Johnson: Forces of Victory (Mango) 10; Nick Lowe: Labour of Lust (Columbia) 5; Dave Edmunds: Repeat When Necessary (Swan Song) 5; Inmates: First Offence (Polydor) 5; Heartbreakers: Live at Max’s Kansas City (Max’s Kansas City) 5; The Boston Bootleg (Varulven) 5.

TOM SMUCKER: Gino Soccio: Outline (RFC) 20; Chic: Risque (Atlantic) 20; Tom Robinson Band: TRB Two (Harvest) 14; Merle Haggard: Serving 190 Proof (MCA) 11; Donna Summer: Bad Girls (Casablanca) 8; Tammy Wynette: Just Tammy (Epic) 6; Sylvester: Stars (Fantasy) 6; Shoes: Present Tense (Elektra) 5; Blondie: Eat to the Beat (Chrysalis) 5; Arlo Guthrie: Outlasting the Blues (Warner Bros.) 5.

Top 10 Albums of 1979

1. Graham Parker & The Rumour: Squeezing Out Sparks (Arista)

2. Neil Young & Crazy Horse: Rust Never Sleeps (Reprise)

3. The Clash: The Clash (Epic)

4. Talking Heads: Fear of Music (Sire)

5. Elvis Costello: Armed Forces (Columbia)

6. Van Morrison: Into the Music (Warner Bros.)

7. The B-52s: The B-52s (Warner Bros.)

8. Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers: Damn the Torpedoes (Backstreet/MCA)

9. Pere Ubu: Dub Housing (Chrysalis)

10. Donna Summer: Bad Girls (Casablanca)

Top 10 Singles of 1979

1. Ian Dury & the Blockheads: “Hit Me with Your Rhythm Stick”/”Reasons To Be Cheerful, Pt. 3” (Stiff/Epic)

2. M: “Pop Musik” (Sire)

3. Donna Summer: “Hot Stuff” (Casablanca)

4. (Tie) Sister Sledge: “We Are Family”/”He’s the Greatest Dancer” (Cotillion)
The Pretenders: “Stop Your Sobbing”/”The Wait” (Real import)

6. (Tie) Fleetwood Mac: “Tusk” (Warner Bros.)
The Knack: “My Sharona” (Capitol)

8. Blondie: “Dreaming” (Chrysalis)

9. (Tie) The Brains: “Money Changes Everything” (Gray Matter)
The Flying Lizards: “Money” (Virgin)

— From the January 28, 1980, issue

 

Pazz & Jop essays and results can also be found on Robert Christgau’s site. His most recent book, Is It Still Good to Ya? Fifty Years of Rock Criticism, 1967–2017, was published last year.

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CULTURE ARCHIVES From The Archives MUSIC ARCHIVES Pazz & Jop

1978 Pazz & Jop: New Wave Hegemony and the Bebop Question

Given my pure mania for what must now be called new wave — punk, I will never forget you — the fifth or sixth annual Pazz & Jop Critics’ Poll ought to feel like a triumph, and in some ways it does. The 98 ballots received were almost half again as many as the previous high of 68, and a conscious attempt was made to avoid loading the panel with new wavers, with many freshpeople drawn from such citadels of tradition as Stereo Review, High Fidelity, Circus, and Crawdaddy (which I will call Feature the day Johnny Rotten — or John Lydon, okay — makes the cover). To a lesser extent than expected, I got my conservative response from those critics. But it was overwhelmed by a post-punk sweep to which more than 80% of the voters contributed with at least one selection.

Elvis Costello’s This Year’s Model is the biggest winner in Pazz & Jop history. Except in 1974, when there were a mere 28 voters, only The Basement Tapes has ever made over half the ballots, and Costello’s point spread — huge over the runner-up Stones and absolutely staggering over everyone else — is unprecedented and then some. But what’s even more remarkable is the rest of the chart. Last year, eight of the 30 finishers were directly associated with new wave; this year — not counting Brian Eno, the Cars, or Cheap Trick — the figure is 16. And now consider the non-new wavers in the top 20, where the poll is most reliable statistically. Eno produced No New York and Talking Heads and is referred to in a recent issue of Punk as “God”; the Cars may share a producer with Queen, but they share a&r, not to mention key musical ideas, with Television and the Dictators. Bruce Springsteen was a punk before there were punks — a “real” punk, as they say. Singer-songwriter Neil Young encored at the Garden with a reprise of his paean to Johnny Rotten, and singer-songwriter Warren Zevon is an excitable boy who has done Neil one better by encoring with “God Save the Queen.” Hard rock perennials Stones and Who both responded more or less explicitly to the punk challenge with their toughest records in years. The best album since 1971 (if not 4004 B.C.) by the venerable rock vanguardist Captain Beefheart responds to nothing except the weather, but the Captain was his own kind of new waver before there was an ocean, or a flag. And finally there’s Willie Nelson, the great exception, described by ace ballot annotator Tom Smucker as follows: “Nelson takes the crossover spirit of 1978 Country Music and crosses over so far with it he misses the mainstream entirely and ends up with an album that takes risks and gains integrity.”

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In part these monolithic results reflect the inactivity of a few major artists. Fleetwood Mac, Steely Dan, Randy Newman, and Jackson Browne all finished very high in 1977 and could probably have done so again this year. (Note, however, that Kate & Anna McGarrigle, number 13 in 1977, put the disappointing Pronto Monto on exactly one ballot. Though at least they got 10 points. Nicolette Larson, unaccountably named female vocalist of the year in Rolling Stone’s so-called critics awards, got only five from her supporter.) But even if Joni Mitchell and Paul Simon had pitched in, there would still be no doubt that for rock critics 1978 was a year in which to rediscover rock and roll.

Despite the wing of the movement represented in the poll by Nick Lowe and Dave Edmunds, who lead a band called Rockpile that played better than the Stones this year, I don’t buy the claim that new wavers merely revive the rock ’n’ roll verities. Still, in terms of spirit and structure the idea has its validity. The wit and the temper of Presley/Berry and Beatles/Stones, intensified by compact, catchy, rhythmically insistent music, abound on the best new wave records. What’s more, the same virtues are now being pursued with born-again fervor by the best of the non-new wave selections. For critics who have deplored rock’s increasing pomposity and blandness, this is a vindication. Rock and roll is our passion, and suddenly there’s more of the real stuff than at any time since rock criticism began.

As the ballots crossed my desk, though, I began to feel vaguely depressed. I’ve never thought it a critical virtue to nurture weirdness, yet for some reason I kept remembering the comment of convinced eccentric Tom Hull, whose 1977 votes for such cynosures as Blondie Chaplin, Kevin Ayers, Hirth Martinez, and Tony Wilson got lost in the consensus, but who this time placed nine of his 10 favorites in the top 30: “I haven’t heard as much odd stuff as in years before, and this list strikes me as pretty mainstream. Some mainstream, eh?” As fellow Pazz & Jop Poobah Tom Carson and I computed the Rs through the Zs, my depression got worse. It so happens that there are a lot of orthodox new wavers toward the end of the alphabet, including three of Trouser Press’s Anglophiliac cabal, and suddenly artists like Dave Edmunds (as Brit-purist as r&r gets), Devo (whose marginal early showing had encouraged us to hope they wouldn’t place at all), and Generation X (accomplished but by no means original — or principled — power-pop punks) were vaulting upwards. This was turning into new wave hegemony, and I don’t like hegemony of any sort. Not even the sudden success of my own favorite record of the year, Wire’s Pink Flag, warmed my heart.

For although I remain a gleefully defiant rock and roll fan — I’m sure the Ramones are one reason I’ve escaped the cosmic cynicism that affects many of my contemporaries these days — I’ve lived too long to feel comfortable with monomania. Rock and roll has always been eclectic, not to say cannibalistic, and in the bleak mid-’70s all but its most dogged (dog-eared?) critical adherents learned to translate that eclecticism into an enjoyment of other kinds of music. In my own case, habitual attention to the byways of pop was augmented by a certain tolerant fondness for the best of folk, curiosity about the more accessible downtown avant-gardism, and renewed enthusiasm for jazz. This year, I elected to exclude the latter two genres from my personal Pazz & Jop top 30, though I’ve certainly gotten more pleasure from David Behrman’s On the Other Ocean/Figure in a Clearing, Eric Dolphy’s Berlin Concerts, and several Sonny Rollins records than from many rock albums I’ve admired in 1978. My reasons were part formalism (rock still seems to me to connote songs and/or electric instruments), part humility (I don’t pretend to cover jazz or avant-garde music and am not entirely confident of my judgments), and part expediency (there were too many rock and roll records I wanted to list). But my decision didn’t stop me from rooting for Steve Reich’s (rather Muzaky) Music for 18 Musicians, which tied for 38th, or Carla Bley’s (loose but likable) European Tour 1977, which came in 54th.

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The major disappointments, though, were in black music. Whatever other genre distinctions you want to make (and they’re always fuzzy), it’s a weird switch to act as if black music (whatever exactly that means) is not rock and roll. If Motown was rock and roll, then so are the O’Jays and Donna Summer; if Linda Ronstadt and Randy Newman are part of the tradition, then so are Natalie Cole and Gil Scott-Heron. Rock and roll is a direct descendant of rhythm and blues, and so are soul, funk, middle-class black pop from Linda Hopkins to Ashford & Simpson, Philly-derived disco, reggae (less categorically), and jazz fusion and Eurodisco (less categorically still, since both are genuinely interracial styles with disparate forebears). All these genres share formal and cultural presuppositions with white rock. As in white rock, their virtues have been diluted and puffed up, and they rarely sustain over an entire album. But turn on WWRL for half an hour and they’ll still be there.

All this is so obvious I feel dumb writing it. But it bears reiteration in the year of Saturday Night Fever and its pathetic, homophobic rebuttal, “Disco Sucks.” Whatever the real dangers and deficiencies of disco as a genre and a mentality, some disco records do more than just succeed on their own terms, as dance music — some of them are wonderful rock and roll. The Best of the Trammps (ineligible for the poll, like all best-ofs) is rough, driving soul in the great tradition of Wilson Pickett; the Bee Gees’ side of Saturday Night Fever (which broke — broke the ice, broke records, broke the bank — in 1978 but is ineligible because it was released in 1977) is inspired silliness in the great tradition of “Carrie-Anne” and “Itchycoo Park.” But the disco-sucks crowd can’t hear that any more than they can hear a Charlie Parker solo or a Joni Mitchell song. These assholes are such fanatics that they seize upon the first hint of synthesized percussion or rhythmic strings or chukka-chukka guitar — hell, the first lilt — as proof that anybody from Bowie to Poco has “gone disco,” though most often the discos could care less even when it’s true. They turn the fatuity, monotonousness, and wimpoid tendencies of the worst (or most monofunctional) disco into an excuse for rejecting all contemporary black music except perhaps reggae, and I bet they don’t listen much to Otis Redding either. One hesitates to cry racism. But this is certainly a good imitation.

So although the sweep put my beloved Pink Flag in the running, it cost me Lee Dorsey’s Night People, which I’ve played as much as any album to appear this year, although under scrutiny it does come up slightly short on consistency and wit. Night People is a real fluke, a classic New Orleans r&b album a decade after the style peaked, a great rock and roll album by an artist who is now 54 years old. It finished 34th, one of four records by black artists that ended up between 31 and 35. Two of the others were P-Funk outings, Bootsy? Player of the Year and Parliament’s Motor-Booty Affair. Together with Funkadelic’s One Nation Under a Groove, the year’s leading black album way up at 27, they would add up to 192 points and top-10 status for George Clinton if that were the way things were counted. Oh well. The two other most successful black albums, Al Green’s Truth n’ Time (30th) and Ornette Coleman’s Body Meta (32nd), were released late in the year on labels with sporadic (Green) or almost nonexistent (Coleman) distribution and press coverage, and might have done better with more time for word-of-mouth. But that wouldn’t have shattered the new wave hegemony either.

One thing [that] might eventually challenge it would be a shift in the critical population, but although I sought out writers specializing in black music, there aren’t very many. Only 12 of my 98 respondents, including two disco people, fit the category, and these followed a much less predictable line than the new wavers. This is partly because only the best new wave artists are getting recorded, while the term “black music” encompasses the multitude of genres I’ve already listed and probably a thousand albums a year. But it’s interesting to me that of the 12, only three named black albums exclusively. In contrast there were 39 critics who named not one black album — not only new wavers but a great many middle-of-the-road Joni-to-Brucie rock traditionalists, including several writers who I know love black rock and roll. If it weren’t for Lee Dorsey, I would have been among them myself. Which seems as good a place as any to enlighten you with my own painstakingly calibrated top 30, which you will read on newsprint only because Rupert won’t pay for granite:

1. Wire: Pink Flag (Harvest) 13. 2. Nick Lowe: Pure Pop for Now People (Columbia) 13. 3. Talking Heads: More Songs About Buildings and Food (Sire) 13. 4. The Clash: Give ’Em Enough Rope (Epic) 11. 5. Neil Young: Comes a Time (Reprise) 11. 6. Elvis Costello: This Year’s Model (Columbia) 11. 7. The Rolling Stones: Some Girls (Rolling Stones) 7. 8. Lee Dorsey: Night People (ABC) 7. 9. Captain Beefheart and the Magic Band: Shiny Beast (Bat Chain Puller) (Warner Bros.) 7. 10. The Vibrators: Pure Mania (Columbia) 7.

11. Ramones: Road to Ruin (Sire). 12. Joe Ely: Honky Tonk Masquerade (MCA). 13. Funkadelic: One Nation Under a Groove (Warner Bros.) 14. Blondie: Parallel Lines (Chrysalis). 15. Television: Adventure (Elektra). 16. Willie Nelson: Stardust (Columbia). 17. Al Green: Truth n’ Time (Hi). 18. Ashford & Simpson: Is It Still Good to Ya (Warner Bros.) 19. Ian Dury: New Boots and Panties!! (Stiff). 20. Shoes: Black Vinyl Shoes (PVC).

21. Warren Zevon: Excitable Boy (Asylum). 22. Parliament: Motor-Booty Affair (Casablanca). 23. Dave Edmunds: Tracks on Wax 4 (Swan Song). 24. Willie Nelson: Face of a Fighter (Lone Star). 25. Bob Marley & the Wailers: Kaya (Island). 26. David Johansen (Blue Sky). 27. Professor Longhair: Live on the Queen Mary (Harvest). 28. Michael Mantler: Movies (Watt). 29. Patti Smith Group: Easter (Arista). 30. Brian Eno: Before and After Science (Island).

And just because it was such a good year, allow me to append the makings of a top 40 for those with sentimental attachments to that concept: Raydio, Steve Gibbons Band, Ornette Coleman, Albert Collins, Loleatta Holloway, Teddy Pendergrass, Bruce Springsteen, Rodney Crowell, Tom Robinson Band, Tapper Zukie.

Measured by the sheer number of terrific new records, it has been a good year, too, despite my misgivings — more than satisfying in black music and the best ever in hard rock. That’s right, folks, I said the best ever in hard rock. Which is the less ominous reason for this year’s new wave hegemony. Because blacks have always been treated like a second-class market, a cost-cutting, singles-oriented, let’s-lay-down-a-party-track-and-split attitude continues to damage the overall effectiveness of black LPs — the Raydio album, for instance, knocks the Bee Gees out of the box until its last two songs. That’s one reason six of the 13 black artists I’ve named are clustered in the addendum at the bottom of my list. But the reason so many new wave records are clustered toward the top — nine out of 15 — is simply that they’re so damned good. In its first flush of studio assurance, the new wave mentality has set off a creative explosion, especially in songwriting, and I just don’t believe in upgrading an album on political grounds. Because my rankings are based solely on some intuitive balance of listenability and aesthetic intensity, I was forced to conclude that any five songs on the Vibrators or Ramones LPs were of broader usefulness than the wonderful 11-minute scatalogical rap that opens Funkadelic’s side two. Similar judgments were made by a devotee of the more standard r&b-rooted hard rock, Dave Marsh, who would have listed Saturday Night Fever and Earth, Wind & Fire’s All ’n All had they not been released in 1977, but who finally decided that Candi Staton and Teddy Pendergrass didn’t quite cut it.

I’m gratified that someone like Marsh, who’s a lot more skeptical about new wave than I am, should find so much good rock and roll of his sort this year, because it reinforces my suspicion that everybody’s rocking harder. True, most music bizzers are relieved that the Sex Pistols have vanished into infamy; they still find the Clash strident and the Ramones simplistic, declaring such bands unacceptable to the imaginary consumer who personifies their own complacency and cowardice. But because it’s the nature of complacent cowards to hedge all bets — and because they want to prove they’re not, you know, square — they reassert their own putative attachment to “good” rock and roll at the same time, thus easing the sales breakthrough of ‘twixt-wave-and-stream bands like the Cars and Cheap Trick. A similar snap-to by old fans (including radio people) who had previously been backsliding into resignation makes quick, surprising commercial successes of Dire Straits (42nd in Pazz & Jop despite late-year release) and George Thorogood and the Destroyers (51st despite a small press list), spearheading a minor white-r&b revival. The more conservative critics, eager to be open-minded, find the new Elvis irresistible and become instantly infatuated with Nick Lowe, whose genius for high pop was inaudible to all but a few pub-rock experts three years ago, while the new wavers move on to the likes of Pere Ubu and the Contortions and love Captain Beefheart better the second time around. Meanwhile, more and more musicians play lots and lots of rough, tough rock and roll.

It’s only fair to add that Marsh himself does not share my sanguine mood. He’s afraid it’s all a last gasp, and for his kind of rock and roll it sometimes seems that way. An interesting statistical sidelight of the poll is the high points-to-voters ratio of Who Are You and (hullo! what’s this doing here?) Street-Legal. When this happens with records below the top 15, it usually indicates preemptive ballot-stuffing, a cultish determination to push the Real Stuff up there, which in earlier polls helped hype Eno and Dr. Buzzard and Kraftwerk but these days seems to be the defense of the mainstream. (Some mainstream, eh?) On the other hand, the 10 records in the top 30 that have gone gold — Stones, Springsteen, Young, Cars, Zevon, Who, Dylan, Nelson, Cheap Trick, Funkadelic — are mostly to Marsh’s kind of taste, including four in his top 10, and he also voted for 36-ranked Bob Seger, who spent the year trading in his silver bullets on something more fashionable. So maybe what the traditionalists are really worried about is that, like me, he suspects Willie Nelson is more likely than Pete Townshend (or Bruce Springsteen) to make good music till he’s 60. Maybe they too detect in the eyes of the Cars and Cheap Trick the blank gleam that gives away artists who are turning to platinum from the soul out. Or maybe it’s just that he’s not comfortable with the shift to the left himself. Three years ago Bruce Springsteen was young blood, the bearer of rock-and-roll future. Now he’s a likable conservative — the vital center, your favorite uncle, like that.

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This would seem to be a swing year. The truism that success on the Pazz & Jop chart isn’t exactly synonymous with success on the one in Record World is borne out primarily by new wavers, who contributed most of this year’s dozen or so stiffs. Not even Patti Smith, who with help from Uncle Brucie finally bagged her hit single, achieved gold, which in the year of trentuple platinum (Saturday Night Fever has sold over 30 million units worldwide) is beginning to strike many bizzers as a rather negligible commercial goal. But for the more poppish artists the prognosis is favorable. Patti came close, and Talking Heads is over 200,000 with “Take Me to the River” still breaking as a single, so who knows where that will end? This Year’s Model has also done 200,000 or so and Costello looks unstoppable — he’s got a better shot at going platinum eventually than Jackson Browne appeared to five years ago. Lowe and Edmunds, who sold zilch, are just as talented as Elvis, but less passionate, less ambitious, and less young; still, if Rockpile is willing to slog it, they’ll do all right too. So will Blondie, already a major [band] in Europe and Australia; if Devo doesn’t go the way of the Tubes, they will too, which I’ll try to convince myself is a mixed blessing.

For the others, however, things look bleaker, with the U.S. sales prospects of the two greatest bands to come out of this thing, the Ramones and the Clash, especially depressing. So far, all that the Ramones’ hard touring and good music has netted them is more hard touring, more good music, and a nationwide cult large enough to keep their road operation out of the red; the Clash are stars in England but have shown as little interest in America as America has shown in them. David Johansen’s solo debut sold disappointingly, and although his sudden professionalism is awesome and his company support unusually single-minded, whether his hip, hoarse New York style can ever make a real dent in these United States is beginning to seem questionable. Solo Tom Verlaine, now minus Television, will tend to his own kind of professionalism, which will most assuredly have everything to do with music (and words) and almost nothing with becoming a star. Ian Dury is so English that he’ll always be a fringe benefit here. And Wire and Pere Ubu, both of whom enjoy modest success in the U.K. (even though Ubu is as loyal to Cleveland as the Clash is to its safe European home), are currently without U.S. labels.

Finally, though, I’m not convinced that all this crass pro and con retains importance. I’ve discussed sales annually in this wrap-up not only because they affect artistic strategy and define what kind of community the music and we its fans inhabit, but also, of course, because they determine what records get made and thus enter history. But it seems clear (knock on plastic) that we’re over that bottom line for a while. Maybe the Clash, embroiled and embittered, will bollocks Britain; maybe the Ramones and David Johansen will finally lose heart; maybe Tom Verlaine will do one solo album and disappear; maybe Wire will go back to art school; maybe Pere Ubu won’t even put out records in Cleveland any more. But though any of those things could happen and one or two of them probably will, all of them won’t. Nor will every one of the more salable new wavers turn to shit before our very ears. This new kind of rock and roll is going to be around for a while.

If someone had told me five years ago that I was destined for cultism, I would have scoffed, or cried. Rock and roll was pop music, that was my line — it don’t mean a thing if it ain’t got that cultural resonance. And in a critic like Marsh, the idea that good rock must move an expansive, broad-based audience remains as powerful as any inborn aesthetic conservatism. But I’ve changed my mind, and I wouldn’t be surprised if the enthusiasm for jazz that the bleak mid-’70s rekindled in me had a lot to do with it. For, looking around me, I am reminded of nothing so much as what I’ve read about the twilight of the swing era. Swing was vital popular music into the ’40s, and some of its proponents — not just Duke and Billie, either — did great work until much later, although not usually in a big-band format. But when Frank Sinatra shifted public attention from the bandleaders, who were swing’s artistic standard-bearers, onto the vocalists, most of whom had little of his talent and less of his integrity, swing began to evolve into the fatuous pop music of Mitch Miller and Doris Day, the music rock and roll revolted against.

Long before then, however, two different groups of black musicians had staged their own revolts. The Kansas City style that had been sophisticated into big-band swing was also simplified into rhythm-and-blues, which many blacks and slowly increasing numbers of whites preferred for dancing. Aimed point blank at the new teenage market (sometimes in combination with country music), r&b of course turned into rock and roll. Meanwhile, somewhere to the other side of the pop-swing mainstream, renegade big-band musicians sparked by Charlie Parker invented the apparently undanceable, virtuoso jazz style called bebop. Shortly after World War II, the style enjoyed a brief vogue symbolized in the picture magazines by Dizzy Gillespie and his zoot suit. Despite that flurry, though, bebop never became massively popular, and some of its key figures — such as Thelonious Monk — had trouble earning a living at it. Yet somehow, by the late ’50s, the harmonic and rhythmic ideas that originated with Parker pervaded jazz-based music.

There are no perfect historical analogies, and the equation of bebop with new wave doesn’t come close, not least because when bebop began there was no bebop — no popular-music-as-art-music — and now there is. As someone who has regarded Charlie Parker as the greatest 20th-century American artist even at the height of his infatuations with William Carlos Williams and Chuck Berry, I get nervous just putting the comparison on paper. But I’ve been making it in conversation for six months now, and I know of no better way to explain what I see happening. The rock that has become America’s popular music is rotten from Olivia Newton-John all the way to Kansas. Good art and/or worthy entertainment will continue to be created within its various genres, but as forms they’re moribund. Inevitably, the new wave ideas will infiltrate these genres and pop hybrids proliferate; since hybridization has always been a means to good rock and roll — eclecticism, remember? — some of them may be quite exciting and the real stuff will keep happening. I don’t believe any more than I ever have that new wave will turn into the next big thing. But I feel certain that it will survive and evolve as an entity — the musicians will be there, with a community of fans to support them. Some of them may even age more gracefully than most rock and rollers.

One reason this comparison makes me nervous is that in several ways new wave is bebop’s obverse: can a black music of unprecedented (for jazz) harmonic sophistication really parallel a white music of unprecedented (for just about anything) self-conscious primitivism? But though a lot of new wave may be technically unsophisticated, not all of it is — the English punk moment was an extreme — and in any case rock-and-roll so-called sophistication has always been conceptual, not technical. What’s more, rock and roll has been exploring self-conscious primitivism as a means of making black-derived forms authentic for white people ever since Elvis Presley; sometimes, as in Eric Burdon, the results are embarrassing, but other times, as in the best one-take-and-out Bob Dylan, they’re magnificent. And it’s interesting that in a couple of ways the parallel really comes alive — because, in addition to the hostile bohemian stance assumed by both new wavers and beboppers, a corresponding musical strategy has served to repel potential fans of each vanguard.

The great jazz critic Martin Williams argues that Charlie Parker’s most decisive innovation was not harmonic but rhythmic — that the difference between a Parker phrase and almost the same notes played by Ben Webster was that “Parker inflects, accents and pronounces that phrase so differently that one simply may not recognize it.” While I can’t follow bebop’s harmonic permutations closely enough to judge with any certainty, that’s always sounded right to this unschooled bebop fan. Similarly, John Piccarrella has asserted in these pages that the essence of new wave is what he calls “forced rhythm,” a term that evokes the frenzied effect achieved by many otherwise dissimilar bands. And once again, that sounds right to me. But here’s another obverse: Charlie Parker swung with a vengeance, whereas new wavers — unlike Guy Lombardo or Linda Ronstadt, who simply don’t swing — don’t swing with a vengeance. Oddly enough, though, turned-off listeners have complained about the “frantic” quality of both musics.

The main reason I’ve never bought that stuff about new wave reviving the rock-’n’-roll verities is that new wave doesn’t sound very much like (good ol’) rock ’n’ roll. It’s too “forced,” too “frantic.” It’s this — combined with its disquieting way of coming on both wild (hot) and detached (cool), rather than straightforwardly emotional and expressive, another effect it often shares with bebop — that limits its audience, and it’s this that makes it so inspiring aesthetically. This isn’t just (blues-based) white music — it’s White Music, or maybe even WHITE MUSIC. Which brings us back, strangely enough, to new wave hegemony.

I believe new wave’s aggressive whiteness is a strength; I like its extremism, its honesty, its self-knowledge. But like the English punks, who love reggae as much as their own music, I’d consider myself some kind of robot if that was where my desires ended. And though I’ve made a case for all the black subgenres already, let me close with a zinger. Maybe, just maybe, if new wave is bebop, then disco is rhythm-and-blues. Once again, the analogy may be, er, slightly flawed — disco is a worldwide pop music, whereas r&b took a decade just to get beyond the juke joints and the “race market.” But both hard funk to the left of pop disco and Eurodisco to its right resemble, in their patterns of production and consumption, other eccentric, largely self-referential styles (reggae, for instance) that have contributed so much to the general vitality of popular music. And this is not least because the relationship of both styles to their audiences is unmediated by detailed attention from the mass media or informed critical scrutiny.

In the ’50s, r&b coalesced with bebop ideas in styles called “hard bop” and “soul jazz.” What do you think new wave disco might sound like?

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Finally, my thanks to all those who got their ballots in on time, with a few samples:

Bobby Abrams, Dale Adamson, Vince Aletti, Billy Altman, Colman Andrews, Anonymous, Lester Bangs, Michael Barackman, Alan Betrock, Michael Bloom, Steve Bloom, Jon Bream, Tom Carson, Brian Chin, Georgia Christgau, Jay Cocks, J. D. Considine, Noel Coppage, Bruce Dancis, Michael Davis, Robert Duncan, Lita Eliscu, Susan Elliott, Todd Everett, Jim Farber, Carol Flake, Mike Freedberg, Dave Frechette, David Fricke, Aaron Fuchs, Deborah Frost, Russell Gersten, Harold Goldberg, Toby Goldstein, Jim Green, Pablo Yoruba Guzman, Bob Hilburn, Geoffrey Hines, Richard Hogan, Stephen Holden, Tom Hull, Scott Isler, David Jackson, George Lane, Bruce Malamut, Greil Marcus, Dave Marsh, The Masked Marvel, Janet Maslin, Perry Meisel, Joe McEwen, Daisann McLane, John Milward, Rick Mitz, Teri Morris, John Morthland, Richard Mortifoglio, Fred Murphy, Paul Nelson, Jon Pareles, Fran Pelzman, John Piccarella, Kit Rachlis, Richard Riegel, Ira Robbins, Wayne Robins, John Rockwell, Frank Rose, Joe Sasty, Mitchell Schneider, Dave Schulps, Andy Schwartz, Bud Scoppa, Susin Shapiro, Bob Sheridan, Don Shewey, Michael Shore, Steve Simels, Robert Smith, Tom Smucker, Chip Stern, Geoffrey Stokes, Wesley Strick, Sam Sutherland, Ariel Swartley, John Swenson, Roy Trakin, Roger Trilling, Ken Tucker, Gregg Turner, Mark von Lehmden, Richard C. Walls, Charley Walters, Ed Ward, Paulette Weiss, James Wolcott, Jon Young.

VINCE ALETTI: USA-European Connection (Marlin) 10; Don Ray: Garden of Love (Polydor) 10; Musique: Keep On Jumpin’ (Prelude) 10; Voyage (Marlin) 10; Sylvester: Step II (Fantasy) 10; Alec Costandinos & the Syncophonic Orchestra: Romeo and Juliet (Casablanca) 10; Steve Reich: Music for 18 Musicians (ECM) 10; James Wells: True Love Is My Destiny (AVI) 10; Ashford & Simpson: Is It Still Good to Ya (Warner Bros.) 10; Cerrone: Cerrone IV: The Golden Touch (Cotillion) 10.

LESTER BANGS: The Clash: Give ’Em Enough Rope (Epic) 30; Ramones: Road to Ruin (Sire) 20; Joe Carrasco and El Molino: Tex-Mex Rock-Roll (Lisa) 15; David Johansen (Blue Sky) 5; Bob Seger & the Silver Bullet Band: Stranger in Town (Capitol) 5; Lou Reed: Street Hassle (Arista) 5; Television: Adventure (Elektra) 5; Pere Ubu: The Modern Dance (Blank) 5; Brian Eno: Before and After Science (Island) 5; No New York (Antilles) 5.

TOM CARSON: David Johansen (Blue Sky) 18; Elvis Costello: This Year’s Model (Columbia) 15; The Clash: Give ’Em Enough Rope (Epic) 12; Ramones: Road to Ruin (Sire) 12; Rolling Stones: Some Girls (Rolling Stones) 10; Brian Eno: Before and After Science (Island) 8; Bob Seger & the Silver Bullet Band: Stranger in Town (Capitol) 7; Lou Reed: Street Hassle (Arista) 7; Ian Dury: New Boots and Panties!! (Stiff) 6; Patti Smith Group: Easter (Arista) 5.

PABLO “YORUBA” GUZMAN: Parliament: Motor-Booty Affair (Casablanca) 15; Funkadelic: One Nation Under a Groove (Warner Bros.) 15; Bootsy’s Rubber Band: Bootsy? Player of the Year (Warner Bros.) 15; Tito Puente: Homonajo a Beny (Tico) 10; Eddie Palmieri: Lucumi Macumba Voodoo (Epic) 10; Gil Scott-Heron and Brian Jackson: Secrets (Arista) 10; Chick Corea: Secret Agent (Polydor) 10; Tipico Ideal: Out of This World (Coco) 5; Van Morrison: Wavelength (Warner Bros.) 5; Neil Young: Comes a Time (Reprise) 5.

STEPHEN HOLDEN: Keith Jarrett: Sun Bear Concerts (ECM) 19; Talking Heads: More Songs About Buildings and Food (Sire) 13; Nina Simone: Baltimore (CTI) 12; Elvis Costello: This Year’s Model (Columbia) 11; Rolling Stones: Some Girls (Rolling Stones) 10; Neil Young: Comes a Time (Reprise) 9; Daryl Hall & John Oates: Along the Red Ledge (RCA) 8; Ashford & Simpson: Is It Still Good to Ya (Warner Bros.) 7; Gerry Rafferty: City to City (United Artists) 6; Wendy Waldman: Strange Company (Warner Bros.) 5.

TOM HULL: Talking Heads: More Songs About Buildings and Food (Sire) 15; Pere Ubu: The Modern Dance (Blank) 15; Ramones: Road to Ruin (Sire) 14; Nick Lowe: Pure Pop for Now People (Columbia) 12; Blondie: Parallel Lines (Chrysalis) 12; The Clash: Give ’Em Enough Rope (Epic) 9; Brian Eno: Before and After Science (Island) 8; Dave Edmunds: Tracks on Wax 4 (Swan Song) 5; Silver Convention: Love in a Sleeper (Midsong International) 5; Captain Beefheart & the Magic Band: Shiny Beast (Bat Chain Puller) (Warner Bros.) 5.

DAVID JACKSON: Ornette Coleman: Body Meta (Artists House) 30; Captain Beefheart & the Magic Band: Shiny Beast (Bat Chain Puller) (Warner Bros.) 10; Funkadelic: One Nation Under a Groove (Warner Bros.) 10; D. J. Rogers: Love Brought Me Back (Columbia) 10; George Thorogood and the Destroyers: Move It On Over (Rounder) 9; Sun Ra: St. Louis Blues: Solo Piano (Improvising Artists) 8; Joan Armatrading: To the Limit (A&M) 8; Television: Adventure (Elektra) 5; 21st Century Singers: Sunday Night Fever (Creed) 5; Peabo Bryson: Reaching for the Sky (Capitol) 5.

GREIL MARCUS: Bryan Ferry: The Bride Stripped Bare (Atlantic) 30; Bruce Springsteen: Darkness on the Edge of Town (Columbia) 20; Lou Reed: Street Hassle (Arista) 15; Rolling Stones: Some Girls (Rolling Stones) 5; Johnny Shines: Too Wet to Plow (Blue Labor) 5; The Clash: Give ’Em Enough Rope (Epic) 5; Carlene Carter (Warner Bros.) 5; Nick Lowe: Pure Pop for Now People (Columbia) 5; Elvis Costello: This Year’s Model (Columbia) 5; Warren Zevon: Excitable Boy (Asylum) 5.

DAVE MARSH: Bruce Springsteen: Darkness on the Edge of Town (Columbia) 30; Elvis Costello: This Year’s Model (Columbia) 12; Cheap Trick: Heaven Tonight (Epic) 12; Southside Johnny and the Asbury Jukes: Hearts of Stone (Epic) 11; Nick Lowe: Pure Pop for Now People (Columbia) 10; Steve Gibbons Band: Down in the Bunker (Polydor) 5; The Cars (Elektra) 5; The Who: Who Are You (MCA) 5; John Prine: Bruised Orange (Asylum) 5; Bob Seger & the Silver Bullet Band: Stranger in Town (Capitol) 5.

JOHN MORTHLAND: David Johansen (Blue Sky) 17; Joe “King” Carrasco and El Molino: Tex-Mex Rock-Roll (Lisa) 16; The Clash: Give ’Em Enough Rope (Epic) 12; Eric Dolphy: The Berlin Concerts (Inner City) 12; Captain Beefheart & the Magic Band: Shiny Beast (Bat Chain Puller)(Warner Bros.) 12; Bob Seger & the Silver Bullet Band: Stranger in Town (Capitol) 10; Raydio (Arista) 6; Jack Clement: All I Want To Do in Life (Elektra) 5; Delbert McClinton: Second Wind (Capricorn) 5; Professor Longhair: Live on the Queen Mary (Harvest) 5.

JON PARELES: Captain Beefheart & the Magic Band: Shiny Beast (Bat Chain Puller) (Warner Bros.) 10; Air: Open Air Suit (Arista Novus) 10; NRBQ: At Yankee Stadium (Mercury) 10; Steve Reich: Music for 18 Musicians (ECM) 10; Brian Eno: Before and After Science (Island) 10; Happy the Man: Crafty Hands (Arista) 10; Jules & the Polar Bears: Got No Breeding (Columbia) 10; Weather Report: Mr. Gone (Columbia) 10; Talking Heads: More Songs About Buildings and Food (Sire) 10; Carla Bley: European Tour 1977 (Watt) 10.

TOM SMUCKER: Willie Nelson: Stardust (Columbia) 17; Funkadelic: One Nation Under a Groove (Warner Bros.) 14; Kraftwerk: The Man-Machine (Capitol) 12; The Gospel Keynotes: Gospel Fire (Nashboro) 11; Bonnie Koloc: Wild and Recluse (Epic) 10; Alec R. Costandinos & the Syncophonic Orchestra: The Hunchback of Notre Dame (Casablanca) 9; Ramones: Road to Ruin (Sire) 8; Rolling Stones: Some Girls (Rolling Stones) 8; Television: Adventure (Elektra) 6; Elvis Costello: This Year’s Model (Columbia) 5.

ROGER TRILLING: Ornette Coleman: Body Meta (Artists House) 10; Conjunto Libre: Tiene Calidad (Salsoul) 10; Culture: Harder Than the Rest (Virgin Front Line import) 10; Miles Davis: Dark Magus (CBS/Sony import) 10; Funkadelic: One Nation Under a Groove (Warner Bros) 10; Majestic Dub (Joe Gibbs import) 10; Michael Mantler: Movies (Watt) 10; Thelonious Monk: Monk at the Five Spot (Milestone) 10; Milton Nascimento: Milagre dos Peixas (Odeon import) 10; The Rolling Stones: Some Girls (Rolling Stones) 10.

Top 10 Albums of 1978

1. Elvis Costello: This Year’s Model (Columbia)

2. The Rolling Stones: Some Girls (Rolling Stones)

3. Nick Lowe: Pure Pop for Now People (Columbia)

4. The Clash: Give ’Em Enough Rope (Epic)

5. Talking Heads: More Songs About Buildings and Food (Sire)

6. Bruce Springsteen: Darkness at the Edge of Town (Columbia)

7. Ramones: Road to Ruin (Sire)

8. Neil Young: Comes a Time (Reprise)

9. The Cars: The Cars (Elektra)

10. David Johansen: David Johansen (Blue Sky)

— From the January 22, 1979, issue

 

Pazz & Jop essays and results can also be found on Robert Christgau’s site. His most recent book, Is It Still Good to Ya? Fifty Years of Rock Criticism, 1967–2017, was published last year.